Friday, 22 November 2013

RCMP files the first round of evidence for the Senate Scandal. It just will not go away.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper must be considering his long term 
personal options as the Senate Scandal deepens.

The RCMP files a potential outline for criminal charges against former PMO Chief Nigel Wright and Senator Mike Duffy.

by Tom Thorne

The RCMP believes it has almost enough evidence to file charges at some point against fired/resigned Prime Minister’s Office Chief of Staff Nigel Wright and suspended Senator Mike Duffy. Both Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy would be charged under Section 487.012 of the Criminal Code with “Bribery, Frauds on the Government and Breach of Trust”. 

The potential case seems to hinge on Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy concocting a plan for Senator Duffy to receive private funds from Nigel Wright to settle his Senate expense claim problems. The intent was clearly to do this exchange of $90,172.24 under the table. That is the essence of the alleged criminality of Wright and Duffy.

The weak link in this plan was that many Prime Minister’s Office staff and officials of the Conservative Party knew of Nigel Wright’s payment and although there remains vague references to an approval from Prime Minister Stephen Harper on 14-15 October 2013, it remains to be shown that the Prime Minister actually knew all details of the Duffy-Wright deal.

In the 80 pages of potential evidence supplied by the RCMP it is clear that the Prime Minister’s Office was deeply involved in the Duffy expense exercise but also in the fate of the other Conservative Senators, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau who also have expense claim problems. Mike Duffy, however, is the only one of the Conservative senators to be offered a bail out by either the Conservative Party when they thought he owed about $32,000 or Nigel Wright’s personal largesse when the amount ballooned to $90,172.24. 

The 80 pages of evidence also show clearly the attempted influence of the Prime Minister’s Office on the then leader of the Senate Marjory LeBreton who they thought was an impediment to their plans. LeBreton was subsequently replaced as Government Senate Leader by Senator Claude Carignan as the Prime Minister and his office went for suspensions without pay and benefits of Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau. The Senate voted to suspend their pay but allowed them to retain their benefits for two years. 

The Prime Minister’s Office has not only clearly breached the criminal code with the Duffy-Wright deal but its attempt to influence Senate proceedings and expense claim audits is also clear. In addition the following PMO staffers, senators and lawyers are implicated in the Duffy-Wright deal. 

PMO emails scrutinized by the RCMP show clearly that 25 March 2013 David Van Hemmen, Executive Assistant to Nigel Wright emailed Janice Payne, Senator Duffy’s lawyer to advise her that the “he had a bank draft to her on behalf of Nigel Wright”.
This is the bank draft that would be paid to Duffy’s lawyer for the $90,172.24 that she would subsequently disburse to the Duffy’s Royal Bank account so he could write a cheque to the Receiver General of Canada to return expense funds to the government.

This action clearly shows that David Van Hemmen knew about the Duffy-Wright arrangement. David Van Hemmen is now a Policy Advisor in the office of the Minister of State - Finance Canada.  A further $13,000 were also paid to Janice Payne’s law firm for her services for Mike Duffy. That money it appears came from Conservative Party resources controlled by Senator Irving Gerstein who at the Conservative Policy Convention microphone in Calgary denied the Duffy-Wright events. 

At least the following people knew about the Duffy-Wright deal. David Van Hemmen, then Executive Assistant to the Chief of Staff, PMO, Benjamin Perrin, Special Advisor and Legal Counsel to the Prime Minister, Chris Woodcock, Director Issues Management, PMO and Senator Irving Gerstein. Others may have known but these are the key people named by the RCMP.

Whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper knew everything remains uncertain, but he did know about the original $32,000 amount the amount Duffy was initially to pay back. Whether he knew about the Duffy-Wright deal $90,172.24 is not fully clear at this time.

It is hard to fathom why Benjamin Perrin as the Special Advisor and Legal Council to the Prime Minister would feel constrained not to inform his client about these matters. To not inform his client would be tantamount to dereliction of duty. Surely someone with this background and duty would see the implications of what could happen when a private payment is made to a Member of the Senate to cover the return of expenses he was not entitled to claim. As a member of the British Columbia bar Benjamin Perrin is now subject to potential discipline according to reports on 21 November 2013.

The other issue that these 80 pages reveal is the considerable efforts made by Senator Duffy and his legal council to call off the Deloitte audit of him if he paid back the money. This exercise turned into communications debacle between the PMO and the Senate prompting Christopher Montgomery, Issues Management for the Senate, to advise the senators involved to back off trying to change the audit or allow the PMO to interfere with Senate due process. He was ignored. Christopher Montgomery may be the only person involved in this PMO operation to council restraint.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is ultimately accountable for the conduct of his office. Although he has ordered the PMO to fully cooperate with the RCMP investigation that does not get him off the management hook for the conduct of his people. To not know what his PMO team was doing with Senator Duffy is tantamount to dereliction of duty. The Prime Minister is known for his micromanagement of almost every part of his government. The question is why was he asleep at the switch when the Duffy-Wright deal took place?

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved


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