Rhino's Ramblings - The Rejected Column
By Robert Thomas Opinion/Commentary
The following is a column I wrote for the now defunct Moose Jaw Times-Herald in May 2017 but it was rejected.
It is the true story about how an old forgotten journalist who everyone forgot about through a series of coincidences stumbled onto what should be one of the biggest scandals ever to hit Moose Jaw.
Moose Jaw annexed land, created an industrial park and used a multi-million dollar infrastructure grant opportunity for CPI. The infrastructure was never built for CPI but could have been used elsewhere in the city - something mentioned at Council by Councillor Brian Swanson.
It is the story of corruption and deceit half a world away and how a love stricken Moose Javian with his good friend Olya stumbled upon it.
It is also the story former publisher and editor of the Moose Jaw Independent Nick Murray brought me on board this publication to tell. I can now tell it.
In August 2019 Michael Schoenert a director of Canadian Protein Innovation who sought to bring the pea protein plant to Moose Jaw sat in a German court room charged with allegations of bribery and corruption involving his former employer Emsland-Starke.
Herr Schoenert is innocent until the allegations are proven against him.
Here without any changes - except a shortened title - is that original column from May 2017 and what I had stumbled upon in January 2017.
RHINO'S RAMBLINGS – PEAS PASS THE TRUTH. IS THE CPI PLANT IN JEOPARDY?
This story begins with myself and 3 friends and a trip we took to Germany to sign a contract to import and market a Pea Protein based cosmetic in their small shop in Odessa, Ukraine.
But how could this have any connection to Moose Jaw? How could this have anything to do with what could be one of the biggest political scandals to hit the Friendly City?
As we sat around I spoke about how where I live we would soon have our own state of the art Pea Protein Processing Plant and it would be really neat if the Pea Protein in the cosmetics just might come from Saskatchewan.
As we discussed this incredible coincidence I remembered the name of the proposed Plant's Director - MICHAEL SCHONERT - and instantly the cosmetic plant director told me something I never heard in the Friendly City
By now most people have heard about Canadian Protein Innovation Ltd (CPI) and their plans to purchase 100 acres of land in the new Industrial Park for $1,208,734 plus applicable taxes from the City for a Pea Protein plant. The land is suppose to be paid for by June 1, 2017.
CPI was to serve as the anchor business in the Industrial Park with other firms moving in around them.
The Plant would be given a guaranteed water price at 2015 rates for 5 years plus a tax abatement of 100% for 5 years under a job creation program.
About 12 trucks would bring in peas every day with a similar amount of product moved out to the GLOBAL TRANSPORTATION HUB (GTH) to be shipped all over the world.
The main promoter for CPI was it's Director MICHAEL SCHONERT who was a plant director at Emsland – Starke in Germany which is the largest starch producer in Europe. The plant uses potatoes in its process there.
FROM THE OUTSET CPI has ALWAYS STATED the Moose Jaw facility was DEPENDENT UPON SECURING FINANCING.
In his state of the city address in January, 2017 Mayor Frasier Tolmie said he had personally spoken to CPI and was highly enthused about the construction set to start in June 2017.
So what could I have stumbled on in Germany at a cosmetics factory that could effect a project back home at Moose Jaw?
Before I reveal that let me first point out what I write about what I learnt they are all ALLEGATIONS and HAVE NOT BEEN PROVEN IN COURT.
What I learnt about were allegations of fraud and embezzlement surrounding – Michael Schonert now a director of CPI and his former employer the Emsland-Starke Plant.
In the December 20, 2014 edition of the 80,000 circulation German newspaper GRASCHAFTEN NACHRICHTEN in a story entitled Emsland Starke "Serious Incidents" a report details how plant directors HUBERT EILTING and Michael SCHONERT were dismissed without notice due to a "serious breach of trust".
In the May 13, 2015 edition of the Nachrichten in an article entitled Emsland – Starke Based on Transparency more details are shed into the ALLEGED activities of now CPI Director Michael Schonert.
In that article Emsland – Starke’s new management reveal a KPMG forensic audit was looking into alleged "irregularities" at the plant. These alleged irregularities lead to the summary dismissals of former Plant directors Hubert EILTING and Michael SCHONERT. The article states the German Prosecutor's Office had made inquiries into whether or not anything CRIMINAL had occurred.
It needs to be noted NO CRIMINAL CHARGES have been laid against Herrs EILTING and SCHONERT but it also likewise needs to be noted the KPMG Forensic Audit is STILL UNDER REVIEW by Prosecutors in Germany.
In the March 8, 2017 edition of the Nachrichten an article details how Emsland-Starke has filed suit against Michael Schonert for TENS OF MILLIONS as a result of the KPMG Audit. The Nachrichten also reports the criminal investigation into the EMBEZZLEMENT and BREACH OF TRUST ALLEGATIONS CONTINUES.
So far in German courts Michael SCHONERT was party to civil proceedings and was assessed a 450,000 Euro (approximately $680,000 CAD) loss but it is now under appeal due to alleged actions at Emsland-Starke.
It needs to be noted at present there are no indications or official announcements of CPI not constructing a Pea Protein Plant in Moose Jaw.
All of this however still leaves me a little bewildered.
First, was the Province aware of the Fraud/Embezzlement allegations involving Michael Schonert in Germany? In a Freedom of Information request the Provincial Economy Department replied they had no such records. So the Province appears to be unaware of the legal actions and allegations in Germany.
Second, since the Province found CPI and "thoroughly" vetted them, how could they miss this? How could the Province not just call Michael Schonert’s former employer for a reference check? Should there be some concerns about vetting and approving CPI who has a director summarily fired and now facing Civil Actions plus a still on-going criminal probe involving allegations of embezzlement from his previous employer?
Was the Province so desperate for new investment into the Moose Jaw - Regina Industrial Corridor and for end-users of the GTH they failed to properly vet CPI?
Thirdly, If the Pea Protein Plant is cancelled due to these revelations in Germany, and the Province attracted, vetted them so thoroughly and brought CPI to the City, is the Province prepared to compensate Moose Jaw for precious time and dollars the City is investing and has already spent to bring them here?
Is the City spending millions on land acquisitions and installing infrastructure, annexing RM property, staff time, public meetings and other related costs on a project that proper vetting may have found from the outset as not advisable?
Fourthly - Throughout the CPI story the Pea Protein Plant's has always been conditional upon financing. CPI has seemingly been reluctant on revealing their investor(s)' identities other then saying it was a German agri-businessman financially behind the project.
Is Herr Schonert just a CPI director with industry knowledge or is he also an investor? Can this project come to fruition without his participation?
In the end though where is CPI actually getting their money?
I will admit I did try to speak to someone from CPI for a clarification but so far have not been able to obtain contact information.
Personally I hope it does proceed because it does sound like a good fit for the City and farmers but I will be honest and say for me personally I have some great concerns.
There are lots of questions that need to be asked here and we need the answers quickly.