A Chinese-Canadian businessman who attended one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's controversial cash-for-access fundraising dinners last year is now fighting accusations by prosecutors in China that he played a key role in a massive pyramid scheme that took in more than $350-million.
Edward Gong, from his home in Markham, Ont., has assembled a business empire in recent years, acquiring hotels in the Toronto-area as well as the second-largest hotel in Michigan and two Chinese-language TV channels in Canada, including Canada National TV. He was an opera director before he moved to Canada in 2002 and became a wealthy entrepreneur, according to a 2016 profile in state-run China Daily.
Mr. Gong was awarded a Queen's Diamond Jubilee medal in 2012, which was given to recognize community service.
He has been photographed with former prime minister Stephen Harper, and befriended Mr. Trudeau at a now-famous Liberal fundraiser involving Chinese-Canadian business people in Toronto last May.
He was in one of the widely circulated photos of the Prime Minister at the event – it shows Mr. Trudeau making dumplings for his donors. The picture was part of The Globe and Mail's coverage of cash-for-access fundraisers that prompted the Liberals to usher in legislative reforms concerning donations to political parties.
The businessman, whose given Chinese name is Xiao Hua, told the China Daily last December that he was using his Canadian broadcasting outlets to represent "China's voice in Canada."
China's state-controlled news agency, Xinhua News, recently reported that prosecutors in Shaodong county of Hunan Province have accused Mr. Gong of recruiting personnel for a pyramid scheme that reaped 1.9 billion yuan, which is equivalent to $350-million (Canadian).
It is not known whether Mr. Gong has run afoul of China's Communist Party, which has recently clamped down on alleged corruption, ensnaring far bigger corporate tycoons such as the chairman of Anbang Insurance Group and the founder of property giant Dalian Wanda Group. Anbang chair Wu Xiaohui was recently arrested for undisclosed reasons and Beijing barred state-owned banks from lending money to Wanda, whose founder, Wang Jianlin, has been accused of overpaying for overseas properties.
The Chinese embassy in Canada declined to comment on Mr. Gong's case and on whether Beijing might seek his extradition, saying only that it has "learned from media reports that the relevant Chinese local judicial department recently conducted a trial on a pyramid-selling case." The Chinese government has been pressing Canada to sign an extradition treaty that would make it easier for Beijing to bring alleged wrongdoers to China.