A recent judgment lifts the veil on a fierce legal battle between two groups of powerful businessmen for control of a nature reserve in Quebec considered one of the largest and most immaculate in America North.
A May ruling by Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Davis brings to light the behind-the-scenes battle over the future of the Kenauk reserve in the Outaouais region.
The judge refused that a group of wealthy businessmen obtain compensation after having escaped the sale of the prestigious property in 2013. According to La Presse, the group led by the heir of the Bic pencil company, Charles Bich, was claiming $13 million.
It all started when a group of investors led by Quebecer Patrick Pichette, ex-number 2 at Google, got their hands on the reserve for $43.7 million.
Pichette wanted to avoid price that a projected real estate development does not disfigure Lake Papineau, where he already had a residence.
Charles Bich wanted to acquire Kenauk with others in order to extend a private hunting estate which he owns with André Desmarais in the sector.
Bich believed that his group and that of Pichette had agreed on an exclusive negotiation for the joint obtaining of the coveted territory. Pichette, however, preferred to join forces with other partners.
Bich and Picchio International (a holding company of the family of Dr. Francesco Bellini, co-founder of Biochem Pharma) therefore initiated legal proceedings in 2015. They believed that they had been misled by the other group of businessmen.
According to allegations made in court by the lawsuit, Pichette and his partners acted in bad faith and acted duplicitously in connection with the transaction.
“The court finds that there was no no exclusivity agreement to make a joint offer on Kenauk”, however determined Judge Davis.
Meeting at Heenan
In the judgment, we learn that in August 2013, the two groups of potential investors had met in the offices of Heenan Blaikie downtown. It was Roy Heenan himself, one of the founders of the now closed firm, who chaired the meeting.
Patrick Pichette and his partners defended themselves by saying that it was not about only preliminary discussions, without formal commitment. As the two groups did not have the same vision for Kenauk, Pichette then went looking for other partners.
The fact that two of Bich's partners, André Desmarais and Dr. Bellini, who were announced as witnesses at the trial in 2018, were ultimately not called to the stand, hurt the prosecution's case, says Judge Davis. .
“Their absence is curious, as the two were essential to Bich’s group to complete the transaction,” remarked the judge.
Due to the lack of witnesses to prove the key elements of the lawsuit, the magistrate deemed the proceedings brought by Bich's group abusive and opened the door for Pichette to be able to assert his rights in connection with this decision. < /p>
THE KENAUK RESERVE
Spanning 65,000 acres, Kenauk has been described as one of the largest and most intact sets of private lands in Canada and North America.
The Kenauk Reserve has 70 private lakes and is home to a gated community with 13 luxury cabins and an exclusive marina.
“A pristine river flows for fifteen kilometers from picturesque Lac Papineau to the Ottawa River. Add to that 102 kilometers of waterfront offering incomparable views of Lac Papineau, hundreds of kilometers of existing roads, the diversity and abundance of wildlife and wild life and the possibilities are endless,” described a brokers brochure in 2013.
The Kenauk reserve was coveted by two groups of tycoons
ON ONE SIDE
Former Chief Financial Officer of Google. Owned $87 million ($113 million) in Google stock in 2015, according to New York Times. He already owned a house at Lac Papineau and wanted to acquire Kenauk to preserve the low population density in the area. A limited tourist operation is part of its vision.
President of Les Viandes de la Petite-Nation, he owns a deer farm northeast of Kenauk, Harpur Farms. Cases of mad deer disease were reported there in 2018.
Montreal businessman whose family owns a home in Kenauk since the 1970s.
MICHAEL M. WILSON
Chairman of the Board of Directors and former CEO of fertilizer producer Agrium. In 2013, he was the third-highest paid executive in the country, with annual compensation of $23.8 million, according to the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives. Interested in acquiring land for conservation in Canada, he eyed Lake Mills and Baie Noire.
ON THE OTHER
Resident of upstate New York. His family is the controlling shareholder of the famous Bic group (razors, pens and lighters in particular). The fortune of the Bich family was valued last year at 1.3 billion euros ($1.74 billion) according to Challenges magazine. Mr. Bich holds an interest with André Desmarais in an area north of Kenauk. He saw potential for real estate development around Lac Papineau.
Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors of Power Corporation. The Desmarais family fortune was valued at $5.81 billion in 2021, according to the Hardbacon website. Mr. Desmarais owns a farm where red deer and elk are raised north of Kenauk. He owns an outfitter, the Domaine faunique des Laurentides, where hunting is practiced. The acquisition of Kenauk would have made it possible to enlarge the hunting area of the Estate, according to the judgment.
DR FRANCESCO BELLINI
Founder of Biochem Pharma, sold to the British Shire in 2000 with a gain of $250 million. Doctor Bellini and his family, including his son Roberto, wanted to acquire a private estate for their exclusive use. Private and uninhabited Lake Maholey offered that prospect, as it boasts world-class bass fishing. Lac des Cèdres and Lac Collins were also considered to be of interest, because of the world-class trout fishing.
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