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NDP appears to sell headquarters to foreign buyer

NDP appears to sell headquarters to foreign buyer
 

The former B.C. NDP headquarters at 5367 Kingsway in Burnaby sold last year.

VICTORIA — The B.C. NDP, which has spent months attacking the government over the issue of foreign ownership in Metro Vancouver’s real estate market, sold its party headquarters last year to what appears to be foreign investors.

Land title records show the NDP’s former two-storey headquarters building at 5367 Kingsway in Burnaby sold for $2.15 million on April 15, 2015, to a company called Utmost Enterprises Ltd.

Utmost Enterprises, which was incorporated just two months before the purchase, lists a registered office at 120-3751 Shell Road in Richmond, which happens to be the same address as an accounting firm whose website says it specializes in “non-resident taxation” practice.

The accounting firm, Lam Tam Lau & Co., would not take questions from The Vancouver Sun on Tuesday.

The directors of Utmost Enterprises are listed as Wei-Teng Hung of Edmonton and Shan He of Delta, with a mortgage on the new property through Mega International Commercial Bank, a Taiwan-based bank with offices in Canada. They could not be reached for comment, and the company’s lawyer, John S.C. Mao, also declined to speak with The Sun.

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Provincial NDP president Craig Keating said he pushed for the sale of the building because it was “old and decrepit,” but did not know anything about who purchased it.

“You’ll have to pursue that with the new owners, whoever they were,” he said Tuesday. “We don’t discriminate based upon whether or not people are Canadian citizens.”

“It was an excellent deal,” he added. “We got quite a bit above the assessed (value).”

The NDP purchased the building in 2007 for $1.4 million. It now rents office space in Burnaby.

Keating said it is not hypocritical for the party to sell its headquarters to overseas owners while also attacking the Liberal government for failing to address the issue of foreign buyers that many believe are driving up the prices of real estate across Metro Vancouver.

NDP housing critic David Eby has criticized the Liberals repeatedly for not pursuing a tax on foreign owners who leave properties vacant in the residential housing market.

He has also chastised government for its inaction on commercial real estate, saying it has failed to close a tax loophole that allows foreign investors to avoid the property transfer tax through what are called bare trusts — having a company buy the property and then internally transferring shares in the company to hand off the asset without ownership on the title actually changing and triggering the tax. There is nothing in the land title documents to suggest that was the case in the purchase of the NDP's property.

He said B.C. has potentially lost out on millions in tax revenue, after a Chinese company purchased four of the Bentall Centre office towers in downtown Vancouver last month, and a German billionaire bought Vancouver’s Royal Centre in January.

“Anyone that’s got a good lawyer wouldn’t pay (the transfer tax),” he said. “It’s not just a loophole, it’s generally accepted in British Columbia that this is an accepted way.”

Eby said the party would have faced a human rights tribunal if it refused to sell to someone just because they had a foreign-sounding name.

“The issue is, whether it’s the NDP or any property owner in the Lower Mainland, the provincial government doesn’t have sufficient controls to know whether all appropriate taxes are being paid,” he said.

The B.C. NDP have set aside the $2.15 million it made on the sale of the building. Its affiliated Broadway Commonwealth Society, which holds real estate on behalf of the party, will decide how to spend the money at a future date, said Keating.

The NDP said at its convention last November it still had not paid off debts from the 2013 provincial election, whereas the B.C. Liberals were fundraising in excess of $100,000 a week toward their 2017 election war chest.

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