Maher Balabanian, this “autocratic” co-owner of a 119-unit building who has just been ordered to pay nearly 7 million to around twenty co-owners, has multiplied “shady, even fraudulent” maneuvers to hide his income, including a dubious divorce “suggesting that he is committing tax fraud”.
The story so far
- March 2007: Maher Balabanian, owner of a 119-unit building in Ahuntsic-Cartierville, is starting to sell undivided co-ownership units. He will sell around twenty in all.
- December 2016: Maher Balabanian has a new co-ownership agreement adopted which designates him “sole administrator of the property”.
- August 2018: lawyer Vincent Ranger agrees to represent the co-owners who say they are victims of a “stratagem of concentration of powers” and harassment in the hands of Maher Balabanian and his brother Jean.
- January 2024: after more than five years of proceedings, the Superior Court ordered Maher Balabanian to pay 7 million to the co-owners in compensation and punitive damages.
This observation is made by Judge Janick Perreault in an extremely severe decision from the Superior Court of Quebec, rendered at the end of a judicial series which lasted more than five years. His judgment concludes that Maher Balabanian set up, with his brother Jean, a “stratagem of concentration of powers” which allowed him to steal from the twenty co-owners of a building of 119 apartments by harassing them, spying on them and exhausting them legally.
Maher Balabanian is described by Judge Janick Perreault as a man who lied “repeatedly” before various courts “on a question as simple as his address”. In 2005, he declared that he moved to Calgary, where he bought a house.
Documents filed as evidence in the civil action show that Maher Balabanian also claims to be separated from his wife. A “declaration of legal separation” was presented to this effect to the Superior Court in 1999, followed by a separation agreement signed by a lawyer.
However, during her cross-examination conducted by lawyer Vincent Ranger, Mr. Balabanian’s wife herself affirmed under oath to have lived in Laval with Maher Balabanian for more than 30 years and declared that she never separated from him and never divorced. “(Mr. Balabanian’s wife) claims not to be aware of this request (for legal separation),” underlines Judge Janick Perreault.
“At the trial, (she) is still not aware of this separation,” adds the judge, in a passage harshly attacking the credibility of Maher Balabanian.
The tax returns that Mr. Balabanian was forced to submit into evidence show that he nevertheless claimed tax deductions totaling more than $118,500 for “alimony” paid to his wife in 2018, 2019 and 2020. “Presumably , the Defendant fraudulently benefits from generous tax deductions for alimony paid to his wife, from whom he is not separated,” the judge wrote in her decision.
The evidence also shows that Maher Balbanian declared the rental income he received from his Ahuntsic-Cartierville building in Alberta rather than in Quebec. This western province has one of the lowest tax rates in the country (around 10% to 12% for the range in which Mr. Balabanian’s income from the building lies, compared to 20% in Quebec). This approach would have allowed him to save tens of thousands of dollars in taxes annually.
Several indications suggest that he is engaged in tax fraud.
Extract from the judgment
This judgment, pronounced in the context of a civil action, is not a declaration of guilt following charges of a criminal nature. The findings were not subjected to the test of a court hearing accusations of fraud.
Revenu Québec, to whom The Press transmitted the judgment, said that it “takes note of the decision of the Superior Court, and will not comment further on this matter.” The judgment of Judge Janick Perreault highlights that Maher Balabanian and his wife were already the subject of tax audits by Revenu Québec in 1996 and 1997, as well as an investigation between 2000 and 2002.
Jean Balabanian does not remember changing his name
The judgment of Judge Janick Perreault also raises disturbing doubts about Jean Balabanian, described as the one who harassed the co-owners, by shouting at them, following them in the corridors of the building and spying on them.
Jean Balabanian categorically refused to confirm his date of birth during his cross-examination before Judge Janick Perreault.
He said under oath that he did not remember legally changing his birth name from Tran Wanes Balabanian to Jean Balabanian in 2001, nor did he remember filing for bankruptcy in 1998 under his old name.
“He lies blatantly before the Court,” underlines Judge Janick Perreault, who threatened him with charges of contempt of court during the trial.
At the time of the events, the building at 10 355, avenue du Bois-de-Boulogne was 80% owned by Maher Balabanian, who exclusively derived rental income from 90 homes rented largely to recent immigrants.
In June and July 2022, when the cheated co-owners obtained judgments authorizing them to seize these rents in order to pay taxes and maintenance costs for the building, Maher Balabanian transferred the leases to his brother Jean. Thanks to this transfer, Maher Balabanian “uses Jean Balabanian to collect his rent income and pay his creditors, in order to avoid any execution of judgment”, summarizes judge Janick Perreault.
These rents, totaling well over $50,000 per month according to an assessment report filed as evidence, were then paid into a personal account belonging to Jean Balabanian, the latter admitted during his cross-examination.
However, at that time, Jean Balabanian was living on social assistance, according to an email exchange he had with Judge Karen M. Rogers of the Superior Court, a situation which prevented him from receiving income exceeding 200 $ per month to benefit from such compensation. The email exchange shows that he also benefited from legal aid during the trial, even though his income was then above the limit of $14,000 per year.
Before the Court, he insisted that he never “touched a penny” of these sums.
Contacted by The Press for this article, Jean Balabanian refused to answer our questions.
His brother, Maher, didn’t call us back.
As part of its judgment, the Superior Court ordered the immediate judicial sale of the building in order to compensate the cheated co-owners. Only the Quebec Court of Appeal can end the process at this stage, unless there is an amicable settlement between the parties.