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Billionaire Couple Were Victims of Targeted Murder, Toronto Police Say

Updated on
  • Police homicide unit say no signs of forced entry at home
  • Sherman was founder of Canada’s Apotex Pharmaceutical Holdings

Canadian billionaire Barry Sherman and his wife Honey, found hanging by belts near the basement pool in their Toronto mansion last month, were victims of a targeted attack that police are now treating as murders.

Toronto detectives, ending six weeks of speculation and conflicting reports swirling around the deaths, said Friday that the founder of Apotex Pharmaceutical Holdings Inc. and his wife were killed, ruling out possible suicides or a murder-suicide. Police have no suspects or motives in the case, and there was no sign of forced entry into the home.

“We have sufficient evidence to describe this as a double-homicide investigation and that both Honey and Barry Sherman were in fact targeted,” Detective Sgt. Susan Gomes told reporters in Toronto.

The police report adds more intrigue to a bizarre tale that has shocked the business community in Canada’s biggest city and cast a pall over one of its biggest drug companies. Barry Sherman was one of Canada’s richest men and the couple were noted philanthropists who contributed to hospitals, schools and other causes.

Barry, 75, and Honey, 70, were found dead on Dec. 15, hanging by belts near their basement pool in a semi-seated position at their mansion on Old Colony Road, Gomes said. The post-mortem examination concluded that both deaths were caused by “ligature neck compression,” signaling a type of strangulation.

Suspicious Deaths

At the time, police would only term the deaths “suspicious” and said they were not seeking any suspects. Within days, there were several media reports of a likely murder-suicide, sparking outrage from family members and friends who said the couple would never do such a thing.

The family hired private investigators, including several former Toronto homicide detectives, to conduct a separate investigation into the killings. The independent investigators recently concluded that the couple were killed by multiple assailants, according to reports last week by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and other media outlets.

“The announcement by the Toronto Police Service that the tragic deaths of their parents are being investigated as a double homicide was anticipated by the Sherman family,” the family said in a statement Friday. “This conclusion was expressed by the family from the outset and is consistent with the findings of the independent autopsy and investigation.” 

PI Squad

The team of private detectives said that they had found evidence that the couple’s wrists were at one point bound together, though no materials that could have been used to perform the deed were found, a source with knowledge of the private probe into the deaths told the CBC. Gomes didn’t comment on whether or not there were marks found on the bodies’ wrists.

“From the outset of this investigation we have followed the evidence,” said Gomes. “The options provided to us were all equally considered as evidence presented itself.”

Sherman, who had a Ph.D. in astrophysics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was chairman of the closely held Toronto-based generic-drug maker and was ranked by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index as Canada’s 18th-richest person, with a net worth of about $3.6 billion.

Apotex issued a statement shortly after the deaths hailing Sherman’s role in making the company one of the world’s largest generic-drug makers, employing some 11,000 people including more than 6,000 in Canada. “Patients around the world live healthier and more fulfilled lives thanks to his life’s work,” the statement read.

Meanwhile, hours before the police press conference Friday, Apotex announced Chief Executive Officer Jeremy Desai was leaving the company to pursue other opportunities. Desai has been president and CEO of the company since 2014. Sherman had stepped back from day-to-day operations years ago.

Multiple Lawsuits

Prior to his death, Barry was well known for his many legal tangles, with competitors and family members, a fact Gomes alluded to.

“Legal complexities in some executions have been challenging, given the litigious nature of Barry Sherman’s businesses, in particular the search and seizure of electronics in Barry Sherman’s workspace at Apotex," she said.

The billionaire had been the target of a lawsuit that dragged on for a decade by his orphaned cousins who sued him for a cut of Apotex’s fortune back in 2007, according to the CBC. The case was dismissed in September and was appealed.

Generic drugmakers have been the focus of a probe into whether there was any collusion in the pricing of copycat drugs. The case racheted up recently after the U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust division warned it might also sue for damages in the price-fixing probe. Companies Mylan NV and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. are among the more than a dozen companies targeted by the Justice Department and state attorneys general in a multi-year investigation into generic drug price-fixing. U.S. states last year added Apotex to the firms targeted by the civil investigation.

Lobby Probe

Prior to his death, Barry was also being investigated by the Canada’s lobbying watchdog in relation to a fundraiser he held for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in August 2015, shortly before the Liberals won the election. Lobbying commissioner Nancy Bélanger recently has stated that the investigation is ending in the wake of the deaths.

The couple were hailed for their philanthropic efforts including those for Toronto region hospitals and universities. Their deaths prompted several major political figures, including Trudeau, to issue statements praising the couple’s legacy.

The Shermans’ 12,440-square-foot home had been placed on the market for almost C$7 million ($5.4 million) shortly before their deaths. The real estate agent who was preparing the home for an open house had discovered the bodies, according to media reports.

— With assistance by Josh Wingrove, and Cynthia Koons

(Updates with details on Apotex’s legal battles.)
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