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Toronto tycoon tried to stop probe into Trudeau fundraising, days before he and wife were found strangled

Executives for Barry Sherman’s drug firm had been subpoenaed by the federal lobbying watchdog

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 December, 2017, 10:25am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 December, 2017, 12:57am

Late pharmaceutical tycoon Barry Sherman sought to quash an investigation into his fundraising for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberals just days before his death, according to a report on Wednesday.

The 75-year-old chairman of Apotex and his 70-year-old wife Honey were found dead of strangulation in their Toronto home last week, police said. Media reports said they were both found hanged next to their indoor swimming pool. Apotex is the largest maker of generic drugs in Canada, and the Shermans’ fortune was estimated at more than US$3 billion.

Children of Toronto billionaire couple angrily reject murder-suicide theory

Police said Sunday they were investigating the deaths as “suspicious”, but stopped short of calling them homicides, while family and friends rejected media reports that it was a murder-suicide.

According to federal court documents, Sherman tried to block subpoenas of two Apotex executives issued by Karen Shepherd, Canada’s commissioner of lobbying, to compel them to speak with investigators.

The lobbying commissioner is tasked with ensuring that those who lobby public officials act transparently, are accountable and comply with a code of conduct.

The Toronto Star said the commissioner’s team sought interviews with the executives in April but they declined.

A month later, Sherman launched his lawsuit, claiming the subpoenas were an “unanchored fishing expedition” and “unconstitutional.”

Death of billionaire founder of Canadian drug firm and his wife ‘suspicious’, say police

His lawyers filed several more documents in the case days before his death.

The probe into a fundraising event Sherman held for Trudeau in August 2015, during the last election campaign, was launched after complaints filed by Democracy Watch, a good-government organisation based in Ottawa.

Sherman and Apotex faced a possible five-year ban on lobbying the government if it could be proven that he ran afoul of rules that prohibit registered lobbyists, such as Sherman, from lobbying office holders they helped get elected.

A second investigation into a November 2016 fundraiser co-organised by Sherman for Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau was reportedly dropped due to a lack of evidence.

But Phil McIntosh, director of investigations for the lobby commission, said in a report cited by the Toronto Star that “the directorate found evidence indicating that Mr Sherman engaged in political activities that risk creating a sense of obligation on the part of one or more public office holders” through the August 2015 fundraiser.

Sherman and his wife had hosted between 100 and 150 people, each paying C$1,500 (US$1,165) to attend the event with Trudeau two months before his election victory.

The commissioner did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In an email, Democracy Watch said Sherman’s fundraising “created conflicts of interest not just for himself but also for Apotex, conflicts that should result in a prohibition on Apotex lobbying the federal government through to August 2020.”

The advocacy group alleged that Sherman’s lawsuit aimed “to try to delay the rulings” of the commissioner until after the next election in 2019.

Trudeau, who said he was “saddened by the news of the sudden passing of Barry and Honey Sherman,” is due to attend a memorial service for the couple on Thursday.