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Texts contradict Markham Greenbelt developer’s testimony about relationship with Ford aide

Shakir Rehmatullah, president of Flato Developments, testified the premier’s longtime right-hand man never visited his home, but insiders’ messages show otherwise
Premier Doug Ford and Shakir Rehmatullah, founder and president of Markham's Flato Developments, at the 2019 Flato Annual Christmas party in Markham.

Text messages from multiple Ford government insiders contradict the testimony of a developer central to the Greenbelt scandal about his relationship with one of the premier’s longest-serving and closest aides.

Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake wrote in his Aug. 30 Greenbelt report that Shakir Rehmatullah, founder and president of Flato Developments, testified that he and Amin Massoudi “do not socialize and have never been to each other’s homes.”

Massoudi, meanwhile, told Wake he didn’t recall whether he’d ever been to Rehmatullah’s home, the commissioner’s report said.

Texts sent by three Ford government insiders show Massoudi visited the Markham mansion of Rehmatullah, the developer, multiple times while working as the premier’s principal secretary.

Rehmatullah’s and Massoudi’s interviews with Wake were under affirmation, the non-religious alternative to being under oath, according to a spokesperson for the commissioner’s office. 

Ten Flato-owned acres made up one of the 15 land sites the Ford government removed from the Greenbelt in late 2022. Rehmatullah “had his hand” in two other developers’ successful requests, Wake concluded in his report.

Rehmatullah has also been a leading beneficiary of the Ford government’s unprecedented issuance of minister’s zoning orders (MZOs) — although most given to his companies' projects could now be in jeopardy. 

MZOs are a tool the provincial government can issue to overrule municipalities’ land-use rules. They’re often issued to make a development project easier or faster. As a result, MZOs can boost property values even before a development is complete.

Rehmatullah’s home in Markham isn’t far from the property his company owns that was briefly removed from the Greenbelt, along with other land he’s secured MZOs to develop. 

His secluded mansion features a backyard pool and impressive gold-accented gates separating it from the road, images found on Google Maps show.

The text messages The Trillium obtained were sent during the Ford government’s first mandate by three then-senior staffers, including two who worked in the premier’s office. Two sources, each of whom has worked in the Ford government, also told The Trillium that Massoudi went to Rehmatullah’s home multiple times during the Progressive Conservatives’ first mandate.

“It was abundantly clear there was a relationship between these two individuals,” one source, a former Ford government staffer, said of Rehmatullah and Massoudi.

The specifics of the texts referred to in this story — which The Trillium has authenticated — and the identities of those who sent them, along with those referred to anonymously have been kept confidential to ensure sources’ protection. 

Prior to this story’s publication, neither Rehmatullah nor Massoudi responded to questions The Trillium sent them each by email.

The Greenbelt land swap came together over the months that followed the June 2, 2022 election. 

Massoudi’s involvement with Ford dates back to the premier’s years as a Toronto city councillor. He worked in the premier’s office from shortly after Ford’s PCs’ 2018 election until late August 2022, when he left to run his own consulting firm. Massoudi continued to work closely with the premier’s office over the next year through a contract his firm received with PC Caucus Services, according to a statement from the premier’s office’s spokesperson.

Premier Doug Ford giving a parting gift to his former principal secretary Amin Massoudi in August 2022. Photo from Massoudi's LinkedIn profile

In his Greenbelt investigation, the integrity commissioner zeroed in on instructions Ford assigned then-housing minister Steve Clark after the PCs’ re-election as having been critical to setting the land-removal process in motion.

“In Fall 2022, complete work to codify processes for swaps, expansions, contractions and policy updates for the Greenbelt,” said the premier’s mandate letter to his housing minister, which Clark received on June 29, 2022. 

Ford hosted the controversial $150-a-ticket stag-and-doe party that hundreds, including Rehmatullah and other developers, lobbyists, and Ford family friends attended on Aug. 11, 2022.

Ford’s daughter’s wedding, which Rehmatullah and Massoudi both attended, took place on Sept. 25, 2022. 

A lawyer for Rehmatullah emailed the political staffer in charge of selecting Greenbelt land for removal on Sept. 27, 2022. Wake called it “fanciful” to suggest Rehmatullah learned of the plan from Ford simply because he was a guest at the premier’s daughter’s wedding festivities.

By a few days into October 2022, Clark’s recently appointed chief of staff Ryan Amato had struck the team of housing ministry officials that he’d oversee to select land for removal from the Greenbelt.

The Ford government unveiled its proposed Greenbelt land swap to the public on Nov. 4, 2022 and removed the properties a month later. 

Wake also wrote in his report that it “strains credulity” that Rehmatullah insisted the timing of his Greenbelt land removal requests was in "the normal course of business.” 

“Similarly his evidence that no one connected to government let him know that the government was considering changes to the Greenbelt boundary is questionable; but identifying who it might have been is more difficult,” the commissioner wrote in his report. 

Massoudi and Rehmatullah were also half of those involved in a Las Vegas trip that Wake looked into as part of his Greenbelt investigation, following The Trillium’s reporting on it last summer. Jae Truesdell, who worked in the private sector at the time of trip between stints in the housing minister’s office and as the premier’s director of housing policy, and then-PC MPP Kaleed Rasheed were the other two involved. 

In a pair of stories published last June and July, The Trillium reported that, according to sources, Rehmatullah, Rasheed, Massoudi, and Truesdell went on a Las Vegas trip together in early 2020.

The three who’ve been part of the Ford government then told Wake in interviews that they’d gone to Las Vegas together in December 2019 without Rehmatullah. The developer, meanwhile, provided Wake records indicating he’d booked two Las Vegas trips around that time: from Dec. 6 to 9, 2019 and from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, 2020. 

Rehmatullah, Massoudi and Rasheed also told the integrity commissioner they’d had a chance encounter in the lobby of the Wynn Las Vegas hotel where they stayed separately. 

On Sept. 11, about a week and a half after the integrity commissioner’s report was published, The Trillium reported new information challenging their testimonies, including that Massoudi had booked a massage at the hotel’s spa on Feb. 1, 2020. CTV News reported just over a week later that Massoudi, Rehmatullah, and Rasheed received massages at the same Vegas hotel spa at the same time on Feb. 1, 2020.

A spokesperson for Rasheed, who Ford appointed to his cabinet in 2021, said in a statement on Sept. 19 that he’d “mistakenly” given the integrity commissioner’s office the wrong dates of the trip and had followed up with the correct dates — which Massoudi and Truesdell would each do via lawyers over the next few days.

Rasheed resigned from Ford’s cabinet and the PC caucus on Sept. 20.

Ford held a news conference the next day, saying he was “very, very sorry” for taking land out of the Greenbelt and promised to return the properties to the protected area. He also disclosed that Truesdell had resigned from his premier’s office job. 

Rehmatullah hasn’t offered the commissioner’s office revisionary information since Wake published his report, a spokesperson for the commissioner’s office said on Tuesday. 

Rasheed’s only interview with the commissioner’s office during its Greenbelt investigation was about the Las Vegas trip. He was otherwise uninvolved.

Rehmatullah, Massoudi and Truesdell each played larger roles in the process leading to the Greenbelt removals and were interviewed twice apiece — once before The Trillium’s reporting on the Las Vegas trip and once afterwards.

Wake’s report noted he asked both Rehmatullah and Massoudi in their second interviews why neither mentioned seeing each other in Las Vegas in their first round of questioning.

“Rehmatullah said he did not mention meeting Mr. Massoudi in Las Vegas during his first interview with me… because his conversation in Las Vegas was with Mr. Rasheed, that he knows Mr. Rasheed and that he did not have a conversation in Las Vegas with Mr. Massoudi,” the commissioner wrote in his report.

Wake wrote that Massoudi said in his first interview “that he had met Mr. Rehmatullah a handful of times… ‘through the circles at Queen’s Park,’ first at a Ramadan event hosted by Mr. Rehmatullah ‘early on in the mandate,’ then at a fundraiser in Brampton likely in early 2022.” 

“He believes they may have met again at the August 2022 wedding of Premier Ford’s daughter,” the commissioner wrote in his report.

“At his second interview, Mr. Massoudi explained he did not mention the brief encounter in the lobby of the Las Vegas hotel because it ‘didn’t come to mind.’”

Ford’s chief of staff Patrick Sackville has also provided the integrity commissioner’s office after the fact with more information that he hadn’t during Wake’s investigation.

In a letter the commissioner posted on his website, Wake said Sackville on Dec. 20 provided his office with an Oct. 17, 2022 email that Amato sent him via their personal accounts about criteria for land being considered for removal.

Sackville told Wake during his investigation that he hadn’t discussed the specifics of the Greenbelt land swap until Oct. 27, 2022. This February, Sackville told Wake he’d found the Oct. 17, 2022 email late last year while gathering records in response to a freedom-of-information request, and that he had “no specific recollection of receiving or reading” it beforehand. 

Wake determined earlier this month that Sackville’s email did not affect the findings of his Greenbelt report.

The integrity commissioner’s spokesperson told The Trillium last week that the office “cannot speculate on future events or outcomes” if additional information contradicting what it was told during its investigation were to come to light. 

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been investigating the Ford government’s Greenbelt land swap since last October. No charges have been laid.

In early December, the Ford government passed a bill returning land it removed from the Greenbelt to the protected area.

It passed another bill on the same day providing the government greater protection against the legal ramifications of revoking MZOs. 

On Dec. 13, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Paul Calandra announced the housing ministry was considering revoking or modifying 22 MZOs for projects that hadn’t made significant progress or lacked necessary servicing.

Earlier this month, the government quietly revoked or amended seven of the eight MZOs given to non-housing-focused developments.

A posting Calandra’s ministry made to the Environmental Registry of Ontario said it would “closely monitor” 14 of the MZOs that were for housing-related projects “over the next 18 months.” The housing ministry will “consider them for potential revocation or amendment in the future if there is a lack of significant progress,” said its ERO posting.

Of the 14 MZOs that remain under monitoring, seven are for Flato-involved projects. The Ford government issued nine MZOs between April 2020 and March 2022 to projects proposed by or involving Flato — all of which had received endorsements from local councils. 

Since 2019, the year after the Progressive Conservatives were elected, the Ford government has issued upwards of 100 MZOs — more than every previous government combined.

Ontario’s then-auditor general Bonnie Lysyk found in a report in December 2021 that seven companies, including Flato, benefited from 17 of the first 44 MZOs issued by the Ford government. In the same report, the now-former auditor general said the “lack of transparency in issuing MZOs opens the process to criticisms of conflict of interest and unfairness.”

The auditor general’s office is currently working on an audit of how the provincial government has selected and approved MZOs, which is expected to be released near the end of the year.

On April 10, a few hours before revoking six non-housing-focused MZOs and amending another, Calandra announced the launch of a new process for receiving, processing, and granting MZOs, promising it would be “more open and transparent.”

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Charlie Pinkerton

About the Author: Charlie Pinkerton

Charlie has covered politics since 2018, covering Queen's Park since 2021. Instead of running for mayor of Toronto, he helped launch the Trillium in 2023.
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