A B.C. Supreme Court case that pitted two rich families from China against each other provides grim revelations about the kind of migration, tax, and real-estate scams regularly occurring in Metro Vancouver and beyond.
Immigration and tax lawyers are stunned that the Fu and Zhu families became embroiled in a lengthy civil suit over three multi-million dollar houses they purchased together in Vancouver, since their case provides evidence of their illicit schemes around real estate, tax avoidance and immigration.
“This case provides unusually candid insight into what those who would abuse our immigration and real-estate systems really think in their own words about their true motives for seeking access to Canada and our real estate,” said Vancouver immigration lawyer Sam Hyman.
David Lesperance, a Toronto-based immigration and tax lawyer, said: “The fact that two different parties … would choose to fully expose their transgressions in a public forum shows either blinding ignorance, or complacency about the ramifications of that exposure, given the longtime lack of enforcement of immigration and tax laws in Canada.”
While both specialists believe the Fu versus Zhu case justifies investigation by the Canadian Revenue Agency, the Canada Border Services Agency and other enforcement bodies, they say the dispute between the families indirectly illustrates the range of common, mostly unpunished migration and real-estate scams occurring in Canada.
Here are seven migration-related subterfuges the case exposes:
1. Not declaring full worldwide income to Canadian tax officials
Judge Susan Griffin scoffed at one family’s breadwinner, Guoqing Fu, for declaring to the Canadian Revenue Agency he had a worldwide income of only $97.11.
“This was an incredible assertion, given the fact he owns one of the top 10 textile manufacturing and distribution companies” in China’s biggest production zone, said Griffin.
The immigration specialists say it’s commonplace for wealthy foreign real-estate investors to falsely claim to tax authorities they earn much less than they do. It’s typically done in an attempt, they say, to avoid income taxes in Canada, and to make one’s family eligible for welfare and other taxpayer-financed subsidies.
But the Fu family may have gone too far, says Lesperance. “I think that clearly an investigation by Canada Revenue Agency is in order. (Depending on the results) the CRA could definitely ask the Crown to proceed with a criminal tax evasion charge, which could result in a 200-per-cent-of-tax-evaded penalty, plus up to five years imprisonment.”
2. Pretending to spend time in Canada to meet residency requirements
Chunquin Zhou referred to one of her Vancouver luxury houses as “immigration jail,” a term often adopted by well-off would-be migrants.
She used the phrase in reference to what she considered the hardship inherent in Ottawa’s requirement that would-be immigrants physically spend two years out of five in Canada before obtaining citizenship.
The judge also found her son, Xiao Feng Fu, was “sophisticated in lying, including in scheming to deceive Canadians immigration authorities that he could maintain permanent residency status without spending the necessary days residing in Canada.”
The family members’ attempts to pretend they were living in Canada while spending time offshore echo a technique used in a widespread scam orchestrated up until 2015 by Richmond resident Xun Wang, who hauled in $10 million over eight years by producing altered Chinese passports and fraudulent identities for up to 1,200 clients.
3. Hiding real real-estate ownership
The Fu and Zhu families were well versed in how to avoid taxes on the sale of their houses by making false claims about the actual owners.
One common technique that wealthy foreign nationals use to avoid or evade paying capital gains tax in Canada is by putting dwellings in the names of children or spouses who appear to be permanent residents of Canada, and who appear, at least on paper, to occupy the houses.
4. Lack of regulation of real-estate agents
The son’s phoney claims about spending time in Canada were co-ordinated by the families’ realtor, identified only as “Mr. Gu.” The realtor assisted the son by helping provide false pay cheques, false employment records and false verbal claims about losing his permanent-resident card while in China.
“The new B.C. real estate regulator may want to invite Mr. Gu to a session over his behaviour,” said Hyman, referring to the way B.C.’s real-estate regulation was recently reformed following persistent complaints it was failing to discipline rogue realtors.
5. Illicitly laundering money out of China
The Fu versus Zhu case baldly highlights the two families’ efforts to break the laws of China, which is increasingly placing tighter restrictions on the amount of money it allows to leave the economic powerhouse.
The Fu family, to avoid detection, used their employees on 21 occasions to transfer lump sums just under China’s restriction against removing more than $50,000 US a year from the country.
The judge noted the parties acknowledged the steps were taken to evade China’s currency controls, as well as its restrictions on how many dwellings they could own.
The Fu and Zhu families’ efforts to illegally remove at least $1 million US from China corresponds to similar attempts made by Anita Wang and other families from China, who the B.C. Supreme Court found in early January illicitly laundered $750,000 to buy a property in Port Coquitlam.
6. Misusing provincial migration programs
The two families from China initially started their application process to move to and invest in Canada by going through the provincial nominee programs of Prince Edward Island and Manitoba, jurisdictions which lack the popularity of Metro Vancouver and Toronto for migrants.
Neither family showed any intention of settling in those provinces, since they immediately put all their efforts into investing in residential real estate on the west side of Vancouver.
7. Exploiting Canadian courts, with costly trials
Postmedia reporter Sam Cooper is among the journalists who are increasingly covering lengthy cases in which foreign nationals attempt to use Canadian civil courts to solve their trans-national legal disputes.
But, as Hyman says, it costs Canadian taxpayers a great deal to provide the judges, buildings and legal staff to run the court system, even when the losing side sometimes has to contribute to opponents’ lawyers’ fees.
“The bitterest irony in all this is that those who would so brazenly thwart our laws with such perceived impunity, for personal gain, would turn to our taxpayer-funded legal system for recourse. Chutzpah doesn’t begin to describe the parties’ conduct,” said Hyman.
Despite the conclusion of the Fu versus Zhu civil case, Hyman noted the family members involved “appear to continue to have access to Canada.”