Big sums in collapsed mall owner's accounts
TORONTO - The owner of the northern Ontario mall that collapsed last summer killing two women claimed to have no money for legal help at a public inquiry into the tragedy although large sums moved in and out of his personal bank accounts, records show.
Financial documents, released this week after a fight over secrecy, shed light on why Commissioner Paul Belanger rejected a bid by Robert Nazarian to have taxpayers foot his bill for the inquiry.
In their application, Nazarian and his son Levon argued their main source of income collapsed with the Algo Centre Mall.
"Without funding, the other applicants and I would be precluded from participating in the inquiry as we do not have adequate financial resources," Nazarian said.
Tax records show Nazarian, 67, declared employment income of $40,000 in 2011, a similar amount in 2010, and $46,300 in unspecified business income in 2009.
Bank records also show Nazarian had run up $847,000 on a personal line of credit last fall — just under its limit — but made $248,000 in repayments over a four-day period last fall — around the time he was arguing for taxpayer funding.
Chequing account statements also indicate deposits in amounts such as $25,000, $35,000 over a few days last September, and a $50,000 deposit in July.
Belanger stumbled over these amounts.
"Several entries record the transfer of various large sums into Robert Nazarian’s bank account without any explanation about their source," Belanger wrote in his previously released ruling.
Reached at home Thursday, Nazarian referred a request for comment to his lawyer, who did not immediately respond.
In asking for funding, Nazarian also said two other companies — Yorkdale Group Inc. and Yorkdale Centre Inc. of which he is president and director — have provided money to help out his Eastwood Mall Inc., the corporate owner of the Algo Centre, which faced a $1.1-million demolition bill.
Yorkdale Group, a property and real estate developer, lost $7,500 in the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2012, according to the records. Yorkdale Centre, a new 3,250 square-metre commercial complex in Richmond Hill just north of Toronto, lost $16,500 over a similar period.
The address of Nazarians' large home in Richmond Hill is given on the records for all three companies.
"The documents provided are completely silent about their corporate structure and share ownership," Belanger said.
"Yet the financial statements of Yorkdale Group Inc., Yorkdale Centre Inc. and Eastwood Mall Inc. seem to show large transfers of funds between them."
The only documentation Nazarian's son 29-year-old Levon — president of a large real estate brokerage — offered in support of his funding bid was a 2011 tax return showing total income of almost $19,000, most from unspecified commissions.
"Neither Nazarian gives the commission any information about their personal assets and liabilities, their net worth, their global holdings or property interests," Belanger said.
"It is impossible to arrive at the most rudimentary estimate of their current financial situation."
Documents show Eastwood Mall had revenues of $791,000 last year before part of its rooftop garage caved in June 23, and expenses of $664,000 — including $14,800 spent on roof and structural repairs.
In 2011, Eastwood declared net income of $325,000, up from $20,500 a year earlier, and spent $187,000 on repairs and maintenance.
Nazarian had tried to keep the financial information secret, but Belanger, who is slated to begin hearings March 4, ruled they should be made public in part because of the importance of maintenance spending on the mall.