A man accused of stealing millions of dollars from the economic arm of a First Nation in the N.W.T. maintains his innocence and says the lawsuit has caused him personal hardships, including the loss of his comic book collection.
Ron Barlas is accused by Łutsel K'e Dene First Nation of diverting between $10 million and $14 million from the First Nation's companies during Barlas's years as chief executive officer of the Denesoline Corporation. Łutsel K'e Dene First Nation Chief James Marlowe launched the lawsuit in April.
None of the allegations against him or information provided by him have been tested in court.
In his latest affidavit filed Sept. 8, Barlas applied to have the lawsuit dismissed and his assets unfrozen and returned to him. In the affidavit, he says he disclosed all possible conflicts of interest to the Denesoline board of directors and all financial concerns that have been highlighted in the First Nation's lawsuit against him were approved by the board of directors. He also says he is responsible for the success of the corporation and is recognized for such success by those who worked with him.
"My comics, vehicles and other items have been purchased with our personal funds and should be returned. My lifestyle was funded by monies I earned from my hard work," Barlas' affidavit states.
Łutselk'e is a community of around 350 on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, approximately 190 kilometres from Yellowknife. It is in close proximity to major diamond mines in the N.W.T., which can present economic opportunities for the community.
Along with losing access to his comic books, Barlas referenced other hardships including the loss of his Porsche as well as media coverage that he says has portrayed him in a "very negative light."
The affidavit also states Barlas has "noticed vehicles sitting outside and watching my house and following me."
Who is Ron Barlas?
The latest affidavit gave a few more details on Barlas himself, including books he's written and bankruptcies he's declared.
In the affidavit, Barlas, who has been Denesoline's CEO since 2014, describes himself as a "highly educated and recognized career executive, entrepreneur, industrialist and philanthropist."
He also claims in the affidavit that Denesoline achieved incredible success thanks largely to his "efforts, reputation and connections."
In the affidavit, Barlas writes that from 2014 to 2017 he increased the average annual donations people make to Łutselk'e from $10,000 a year and $50,000 "largely as a result of" his "extensive efforts, creativity and initiative."
A highly educated and recognized career executive, entrepreneur, industrialist and philanthropist." - Ron Barlas describing himself in his affidavit
The affidavit does reference how he declared bankruptcy twice, but says these were outside of his personal control and that he has "otherwise had a very successful business career."
He says one bankruptcy was the result of his company being purchased in 1996 and the new owner pushing him out and the second was the result of a U.S. mall owner defaulting in 2008 and leaving Barlas with no money.
Barlas also refers to himself as the author of two best-selling books.
Ron Barlas, left, and Zeba Barlas are named in a fraud lawsuit which alleges Ron stole from the community and manipulated how Denesoline and the two other corporations were run to protect his leadership and to prevent oversight. (Zeba Barlas/Facebook)
Two books under the name of Mirza Barlas, MBA, (Barlas' full name according to the affidavit is Mirza Mohammad Imran Karim Barlas) are available on Amazon, titled 6 Mega Life Transforming Hacks and 6 Mega Power and Influence Hacks.
The description on one reads "this book teaches you the personal abilities necessary to get your way with others."
His biography on the Amazon website describes Barlas as an "award-winning career executive, entrepreneur, industrialist and philanthropist who champions the wronged and disadvantaged Indigenous people of Northern Canada."
The affidavit also addresses some specific incidents in Barlas' tenure as CEO, including the evolution of his employment contracts and how those got approved.
In the affidavit, Barlas references his original employment contract, where he made $170,000 annually plus an annual bonus.
On Aug. 27, 2014, a few months after Barlas was hired, he had a new employment contract approved at a board meeting, giving him a higher annual bonus than he was initially granted. He says this was because of the "higher cost of living in Yellowknife" and to ensure that he was making the equivalent to his previous employment.
Then in 2016, Barlas was given a new employment agreement increasing his salary to $221,000 with a guaranteed annual bonus of 46 per cent of his base salary (which calculates to around an additional $101,660). He wrote that the new agreement was recognition of the success Denesoline was experiencing thanks to him — he says the corporation more than tripled its revenue after tax earnings.
But the new contract included a provision that gave Barlas the authority to pay himself and anyone under his authority and that Denesoline waived the right to sue him for that.
Barlas writes in his affidavit that he requested these amendments because he had been "constructively dismissed" from his previous employer.
Barlas writes that he explained this to one Denesoline board director, who he says agreed to this request.
Łutsel K'e members previously raised concerns about Denesoline's transparency, according to minutes from another affidavit. (Natalie Pressman/CBC)
'Membership cannot tell the Board and CEO how to run the company'
Over the years, members of Łutsel K'e Dene First Nation raised concerns about a lack of transparency by Denesoline, according to minutes filed in a separate affidavit.
Chan's affidavit includes an email Barlas sent to board members on Sept. 22, 2015.
The email was in regards to two questions members had raised — one asking for a status report and the CEO's activities, and another on why Barlas didn't live in Łutselk'e.
Barlas responded to these inquiries by writing that Łutsel K'e Dene First Nation members weren't entitled to any information outside what is provided at the annual general meeting. He said members can affect the direction of the corporation by electing a board.
"In other words, the membership cannot tell the Board and CEO how to run the company because they aren't responsible for the company's results," he wrote.
However, part of the lawsuit alleges that Barlas would appoint and fire board members.
In his affidavit, Barlas is seeking the dismissal of the lawsuit and for his assets to be unfrozen.
CBC News reached out to Barlas, but didn't receive a response. He is scheduled to appear at the Yellowknife courthouse on Sept. 27.
Łutsel K'e Dene First Nation is hosting a community meeting to discuss the corporation on Sept. 26.