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Montreal police make arrests in Cinar case

Defunct toon company execs accused of fraud

MONTREAL — After an 11-year probe, Quebec police have arrested the former chief financial officer of former animation company Cinar Corp. and issued an arrest warrant for co-founder and former CEO Ronald Weinberg alleging fraud worth $120 million.

The police charge that Weinberg and Hasanain Panju invested Montreal-based Cinar’s funds in bank accounts in the Bahamas between 1998 and 2000 without the approval of the board.

An internal audit in 2000 discovered the discrepancy, but it has taken the authorities years to build a case.

Arrest warrants were also issued for John Xanthoudakis, president of hedge-fund operator Norshield Financial Group of Montreal, and Lino Pasquale Matteo, president of Mount Real, in connection with investments.

The warrants, filed at the Montreal courthouse on Wednesday, cover more than 30 criminal charges, including allegations of circulating a false prospectus, fraud and forgery. Police say Weinberg is believed to be in Florida.

Cinar, which no longer exists, was one of Canada’s most successful TV companies for much of the 1990s, running a booming kids animation and live-action business. It produced popular shows like “Caillou” and “Arthur” that were sold all over the world.

But it was brought down by the financial scandal at the beginning of the previous decade. Aside from the money allegedly deposited in offshore accounts, Cinar was accused of routinely pretending that American scripts were Canadian in order to receive federal and provincial tax credits.

At the time, Cinar denied wrongdoing and the province of Quebec did not file criminal charges. However, Cinar paid a settlement to Canadian and Quebec tax authorities of C$17.8 million ($18.3 million) and $2.7 million more to federal funding agency Telefilm Canada.

In 2001, Weinberg and his now-deceased wife, Micheline Charest, each paid $1 million to the Quebec Securities Commission and were banned from serving as directors or officers at any publicly traded Canadian company for five years.

Cinar was sold in 2004 to a group headed by Michael Hirsh and Toper Taylor, former execs at rival kids TV company Nelvana, and it became the Cookie Jar Group.

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