The opening day of the trial for Omar Kalair, dubbed the “Muslim Madoff” by some of the homeowners who were allegedly left thousands in the hole after buying into the mortgages marketed to Muslims, got underway earlier this month.
But in a strange twist in a strange investigation, Kalair unceremoniously fired his lawyer effectively adjourning the trial and pushing it back until Sept. 24, nearly a year away. The Crown made its opening statement on Nov. 7 in Ontario Superior Court in downtown Toronto after about two days of jury selection, with the trial expected to last several weeks.
The ministry declined to answer whether delays of this length are normal or what impact they may have on the case.
Kalair’s former counsel and that of his co-accused both declined comment on the case.
In his opening statement just weeks ago, Frost laid out an elaborate case before the jury, saying Kalair emptied the accounts of his mortgage company, UM Financial, days before it went into receivership and purchased nearly $2 million in gold bars with the last of its money, leading investigators on a “treasure hunt.”
In addition to the gold bars, prosecutors said Kalair and co-accused Yusuf Panchbhaya, 59, also purchased hundreds of thousands in silver bullion. Panchbhaya was the chair of a board of religious advisers who issued fatwas sanctioning the businesses mortgages as Islamic.
The case against the accused began in 2011, when some 180 homeowners were left in the lurch. That’s when a superior court judge placed UM Financial into receivership after it emerged that mortgage payments that were supposed to be remitted to the Central 1 Credit Union were in arrears. the credit union had extended millions of dollars in loans to UM Financial since 2004.
In the years leading up to the scandal, UM Financial had built up an estimated $32-million portfolio of what were billed as Shariah-compliant mortgages. Some Muslim scholars hold that it is not permissible to charge or receive interest on loans, according to Islamic Shariah law.
At the time, the company boasted it was “Canada’s premier Islamic Financial Institution,” at one point working towards an application for a Canadian bank licence — and was profiled on the business pages of some of the country’s major newspapers.
But while technically interest-free, UM Financial charged a fee to its clients for its religiously-sanctioned mortgages — at a sum higher than what borrowers would usually pay at market rates.
Read the full story over at the CBC.