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Paper Excellence CEO refuses to face federal committee, prompts threat of legal summons

NDP MP Charlie Angus has submitted a notice of motion to issue a legal summons for Paper Excellence CEO Jackson Wijaya, after the forestry tycoon refused to appear before a federal committee.
A senator and son of Brazil's former president, Eduardo Bolsonaro (left) meets with Paper Excellence's Jackson Wijaya (right) in Indonesia to receive a $3.5-billion symbolic cheque for the company's planned purchase of the Eldorado mill.

The head of the B.C.-based forestry company Paper Excellence has declined to appear before a federal committee investigating its corporate structure and business relations.

The disclosure, made by the clerk of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources earlier this month, came four months after committee members passed a motion calling for Jackson Wijaya, CEO and sole shareholder of the company, to answers lawmakers’ questions.

In response this week, NDP MP Charlie Angus submitted a notice of motion to issue a legal summons for Wijaya so that he appear no later than three weeks after it's adopted. The committee is expected to vote on the motion next week.

Should the motion pass and Wijaya step foot on Canadian soil, he could legally be detained and forced to appear in Ottawa before the committee. If he ignores the legal summons, he could be called to the bar in the House of Commons to receive questioning, admonishment or reprimand for “an offence against the dignity or authority of Parliament”— an extraordinary step that has never occurred with a foreign national.

“This is a man who's in control of a large swath of Canadian forest. This is a man who was given control of major Canadian companies. He has an obligation to testify,” Angus recently told Glacier Media.

The committee began examining Paper Excellence after a journalistic investigation — which included Glacier Media and its media partners with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) — into the Richmond-based company’s overseas ties.

That investigation revealed numerous links between Paper Excellence and Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), the forestry, pulp and paper arm of the Sinar Mas Group, which environmental groups allege has been responsible for widespread deforestation, human rights abuses and conflicts with Indigenous communities. Both Paper Excellence and APP say they are independent of one another.

Paper Excellence holds dozens of pulp and paper mills across Canada, the U.S., Brazil and France. In the past few years, the company embarked on a rapid series of acquisitions, with the latest culminating in March, when Paper Excellence closed a multibillion-dollar acquisition of Resolute Forest Products. That deal gives the company control of over 22 million hectares of Canadian forests and makes Paper Excellence the largest forestry company in North America.

“Everything that Paper Excellence has said about being good corporate citizens gets blown out of the water if [Jackson Wijaya] decides to hide out in Shanghai or Jakarta and refuses to answer questions about his relationship to Sinar Mas, the Wijaya family, Asia Pulp and Paper and all the allegations that surround those companies,” Angus said.

New evidence suggests Paper Excellence directly supplies APP

As part of their initial investigation, Glacier Media and its ICIJ partners interviewed former employees and reviewed leaked emails suggesting staff worked freely between Paper Excellence and APP.

In several cases, communications show APP employees providing key strategic analyses in a Paper Excellence application to Chinese regulators. Mac Anderson, a former employee who ran a Paper Excellence fibre supply company in B.C., described reporting to officials in Shanghai. Another former APP employee said pulp Paper Excellence exported from Canada acted as “a feeder for the Chinese machine.”

The ICIJ consortium of media outlets used shipping records and satellite tracking technology to trace one of Paper Excellence’s pulp shipments from B.C. to Shanghai through an APP-linked logistics company. Earlier this year, the Asian conglomerate denied ever buying pulp “directly” from Paper Excellence.

John Williams, non-executive chairman of the board for the Paper Excellence Group, reiterated that point in May, testifying to the federal committee that the company was not seeking to redirect Canadian pulp to feed Chinese and Indonesian mills.

Documents from an APP stakeholder advisory forum, recently seen by Glacier Media, suggest that has not always been the case.

When in July 2020, an individual from an Indonesian environmental group asked Elim Sritaba, APP’s chief sustainability officer at the time, what the relationship between APP and Paper Excellence was, her answer was unequivocal.

“Regarding the relations of Paper Excellence with APP, Paper Excellence is one of our fibre suppliers,” APP’s Sritaba is quoted saying in the company document.

What provincial governments knew about Paper Excellence's overseas ties

Other evidence has emerged in Canada that multiple levels of government have known more about the relationship between Paper Excellence and APP than they have let on in public.

In June, Glacier Media reported on a briefing note from the Nova Scotia government indicating it knew Paper Excellence was controlled by APP as recently as 2017. The briefing note raised questions over APP's record US$13.9-billion default in 2001, and that it “hasn’t been rated by any major rating agency since the early 2000s.”

“It does not appear that APP had difficulty accessing capital required for expansion over the recent past, however it is unclear who are the bank(s)/ financier(s) that have been bankrolling APP group of companies,” the briefing says.

In its examination of Paper Excellence’s properties, the ICIJ investigation turned up several mortgages in B.C. and Saskatchewan with a curious link to the Chinese state.

Over a decade ago, Paper Excellence secured US$1.25 billion in credit from the China Development Bank, an investment arm the Chinese government has used to purchase overseas infrastructure and build out its Belt and Road Initiative.

Jackson Wijaya's father Teguh Ganda Wijaya (or Huang Zhiyuan in Chinese) ​​​​​​is chairman of Asia Pulp and Paper. In this 2019 image from Chinese state broadcaster CCTV-13, the head of APP meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping​. A Canadian investigation is probing the younger Wijaya's company, Paper Excellence, including its corporate structure and any overseas business ties. CCTV-13

In May, Williams testified to the federal committee that the company had paid off all of the US$1.25-billion loan debenture by 2020 and was free of any Chinese debt.

Following the publication of its investigation with the ICIJ, Glacier Media also received a briefing note prepared for senior B.C. government officials ahead of a meeting with Paper Excellence lobbyists. The document, which was prepared in December 2020, shows the government of the day knew major capital spending decisions were being made by “Indonesia.”

One entry notes, “Indonesia has approved the largest capital expenditure in Port Alberni since the 1990s…” Another says “Indonesia has approved reopening of the third paper production line in Crofton…”

The rest of the page, released through a freedom of information request, was heavily redacted.

High-level staff in the B.C. government who were sent an email containing the document have turned down or ignored requests for comment.

At the time, former Paper Excellence spokesperson Martin Croteau said "Indonesia" was likely a reference to Wijaya himself.

Federal minister praises Sinar Mas’s investment in Canada

The knowledge of Paper Excellence’s overseas ties also appear to extend to at least one federal minister. In 2021, the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, which is currently investigating the company, heard from Mary Ng, Minister of Export Promotion, International Trade and Economic Development.

“Since 2015, the trade commissioner service has facilitated numerous forest-related investment projects to Canada, including into Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, New Brunswick and British Columbia,” Ng told the Standing Committee on Natural Resources.

She later added: “Take for example, Sinar Mas from Indonesia. It has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to modernize paper mills in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, employing 3,000 Canadians…”

Officially, the Sinar Mas Group has no paper mills in Canada. The only company that fits the company profile described by Minister Ng is Paper Excellence.

Ng is currently negotiating a free trade agreement with Indonesia, with whom Canada’s third largest export is chemical wood pulp.

The minister turned down an interview request from Glacier Media. When asked to explain why Minister Ng told the Standing Committee on Natural Resources the Sinar Mas Group had invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Canadian mills seemingly owned by Paper Excellence, a spokesperson with Global Affairs Canada refused to directly answer the question.

“Foreign investment plays an important part in the Canadian economy, bringing new technology and practices that can increase the productivity and competitiveness of Canadian firms,” the Global Affairs spokesperson wrote in an email.

“Recognizing the importance of investment flows into the country, Canada has a broad framework in place to promote trade and investment.”

The spokesperson said the federal government’s “Indo-Pacific Strategy” was to expand trade and investment with fast-growing markets like Indonesia for the benefit of Canadian companies.

He added: “…questions regarding investments made by Paper Excellence should be directed to Paper Excellence.”

Documents could be made public should Wijaya fail to show, says MP

A spokesperson for Paper Excellence said in an email that Wijaya declined the committee's invitation, “both in person and via remote link” because “he believes his Canadian leadership team who run the businesses here are very well suited to represent Paper Excellence.”

“They have accountability for operations and strategy in Canada,” said spokesperson Brenda Martin.

Martin added that while “Mr. Wijaya does not reside in Canada, he travels extensively and does travel to Canada to meet and stay in touch with his team here.”

“Should a legal summons come to pass, we would address it then.”

The details of Paper Excellence's recent acquisitions could be made public through channels other than its CEO. Two weeks ago, the Standing Committee on Natural Resources passed a motion that would allow members to review a collection of unseen confidential documents provided by the company.

Angus said depending on what’s in them and whether Wijaya chooses to speak to the committee, he and his colleagues could choose to lift the confidentiality prevision provided to the company when they were turned over.

“The government is going to have to answer some questions as well,” Angus told Glacier Media. “Did they sell out communities like Powell River and Espanola and the other communities where the mills have been shut down since this takeover?”

He added: “Did they sell them out in order to get a free trade deal with Indonesia? Is that deal going to be shutting down mills and exporting the pulp for production in Indonesia or Shanghai?”

“We need to know.”