Former Dragons’ Den star Michael Wekerle in legal battle with partner over Waterloo property venture

Photo illustration The Globe and Mail. Source photos: handout, facebook, coherent logix

With BlackBerry retrenching and retreating from Waterloo, Ont., Michael Wekerle saw an opportunity in 2014 to snap up a group of buildings that once housed the smartphone maker. His plan was to attract other tech firms to the city and boost economic development. He dubbed it the Waterloo Innovation Network.

But the venture is now mired in litigation, all but one of the eight buildings have been sold, and Mr. Wekerle is accusing the guy he put in charge of running it, Mark Arbour – once a close friend, confidant and even trustee of his estate – of orchestrating a $15-million fraud against him. The former Dragons’ Den star and Bay Street trader is also suing Mr. Arbour’s wife, adult son, a law firm, two commercial real estate agencies and sundry others for their involvement in the alleged scheme.

Businessman Michael Wekerle featured in a promo for the ninth season of Dragon’s Den.Handout

“Arbour increasingly abused Wekerle’s trust, took advantage of Wekerle’s personal difficulties, and ultimately defrauded the Wekerle Group of millions of dollars,” according to a lengthy statement of claim filed in November.

Jason Woycheshyn, a lawyer for Mr. Wekerle at Stewart McKelvey, said in an e-mail that had it not been for the alleged fraud, “it is likely that Mr. Wekerle would not have sold any of his buildings in Waterloo.”

Mr. Arbour has denied the claims in court and said the actions Mr. Wekerle characterizes as fraud were legitimate business transactions. Other court filings portray Mr. Wekerle as uninterested in the details of the venture and claim he rarely visited the properties as he struggled to repay debts at his other businesses – notably the famed El Mocambo club in Toronto.

Mr. Arbour said in an e-mail, through his lawyer, that the buildings were sold with Mr. Wekerle’s approval because office vacancies plummeted during the pandemic and because Mr. Wekerle had to service a large loan taken out to renovate the El Mocambo, not because of an alleged fraud. “The reason Michael Wekerle is in this poor financial situation is because of Michael Wekerle and his poor decisions,” Mr. Arbour said in the statement to The Globe and Mail.

None of the allegations have been tested in court.

The two men first met in 2014 through a mutual acquaintance and bonded over a shared

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