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Trudeau Foundation says it's launching independent review of potential China-linked donation

The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation says it will be launching an independent review of the organization's acceptance of a donation "with a potential connection to the Chinese government."

The foundation's board reached this unanimous decision prior to dissolution, according to board chair Edward Johnson.

"This review will be conducted by an accounting firm instructed by a law firm, neither of which were previously involved with the Foundation," Johnson said in a statement to CTV News.

On Tuesday, the foundation's entire board of directors and president and CEO announced their resignations, citing "politicization" of the self-described independent, non-partisan scholarship organization. 

Johnson was one of three directors who agreed to remain on the board on an interim basis. 

In announcing the mass exodus of the organization's leadership, the foundation cited the "great deal of pressure" put on management related to "the political climate surrounding a donation received by the Foundation in 2016."

Over the last few months amid reporting on foreign interference, attention has been put on the foundation over past members' ties to the current government, in light of reporting by The Globe and Mail stating the foundation had several years ago accepted a $200,000 donation from a Chinese businessman with ties to the Chinese government.

In March, then-president Pascale Fourier issued a statement saying the foundation had refunded "all amounts received with respect to the donation pledge," because of the potential China connection. The Globe and Mail reported that the amount being returned was actually $140,000.

On Wednesday, La Presse reported that attempts to return the funds were unsuccessful, generating turmoil within the organization. The Quebec-based newspaper reported that some board members had considered asking Canada's Auditor General to look into the issue.

In its Wednesday statement to CTV News, the foundation said it did issue a reimbursement cheque in the name of the donor who made the initial two payments of $70,000 "and to which CRA charitable receipts were issued."

Declining an interview request, Johnson said the foundation's priority at present is "an efficient transition ensuring our operational capacity."

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about the latest reporting surrounding the donation. In response, he restated that he's had no involvement with the foundation that bears his father's name in the last decade.

The prime minister said it is "important" for the foundation to reflect "on how it can continue doing the important work that it does."

Separately, as special rapporteur, former governor general David Johnston has been tasked by Trudeau to assess the "extent and impact of foreign interference" in Canada's electoral processes. Calls continue from the opposition parties for an independent public inquiry into foreign meddling in Canadian affairs.

With files from CTV News' Spencer Van Dyk 



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