Sunday, February 17, 2008

The RCMP Falls Down On the Job and Other Items of Interest in the Mulroney Probe

In the face of recent contradictory evidence and uncooperative witnesses, it looks like the Ethics committee is going to fold its tent and hand its mandate over to the yet-to-be defined public inquiry.

Liberal MP Robert Thibault is quoted in the Globe as saying, "It seems a bunch of good old boys set a system up where they could get very rich, very quick. And the name of the prime minister was used a lot. Was he part of the thing? I don't know. You don't see any direct evidence. This is work for an inquiry... At a committee you can scratch the surface, at best." The same article quotes NDP MP Pat Martin as saying, "It's our opinion we should wrap it up now, hand it over to the public inquiry to see where they can take it."

Despite the problems, some really telling information came to light in committee hearings in the last couple of weeks.

Karlheinz Schreiber's former accountant Giorgio Pelossi didn't provide much information beyond what Stevie Cameron and Harvey Cashore had already published in their book The Last Amigo, but he provided some disturbing information about the RCMP investigation into Mulroney. The RCMP interviewed Pelossi at length in 1996 and gave him a lie detector test, but apparently did not follow up on his detailed testimony about Schreiber. Pelossi told them that Schreiber received $27 million to use to bribe government officials in the Air Canada Airbus deal, and that Schreiber earmarked 25% of that money for Mulroney - while Mulroney was prime minister. Nevertheless, the RCMP did not interview Schreiber until 1997 - after Mulroney had received $2.1 million from the government in his defamation suit about his business dealings with Schreiber.

The Globe continued, "Startled opposition MPs on the committee said Mr. Pelossi's testimony calls into question both the RCMP investigation and the recent assertion by David Johnston - Prime Minister Stephen Harper's appointee to set terms of reference for a public inquiry into the matter - that the Airbus investigation is "well-tilled ground." "Here we have someone who was interviewed by the RCMP for six hours 12 years ago, gave them chapter and verse, had all his documents with him - and they still never met with Schreiber until (after) the settlement with Mulroney," said an incredulous New Democrat MP Thomas Mulcair."

Pelossi painted Schreiber as an habitual liar. Reading between the lines, I wonder if Schreiber lies as a way to protect himself - there's noone who can provide a coherent account of his activities, not even the man who was his accountant and money manager from 1969 to 1991.

Several of the Ethics committee's witnesses also appear to have been caught out in lies:

- Fred Doucet claimed he did no business with Schreiber until after he retired from the government in 1989, but the Globe reports that German authorities have receipts showing that he and his companies received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Schreiber in 1988.
- GCI employee Greg Alford testified that GCI did not do any work for Airbus, but again, documents from the time prove otherwise.
- The Globe reports that Francois Martin, former Mulroney chef, "told the MPs he only met former Mulroney chief of staff Fred Doucet once to get cash for the prime minister's wife Mila. Mr. Doucet told the committee the same thing. But detailed notes provided to the committee from investigative journalist Stevie Cameron's 1993 interviews with Mr. Martin show the chef repeatedly told her about getting cash from Mr. Doucet on an ongoing basis." You can read Cameron's notes here. This is not a he said-she said moment: journalist Rod Macdonell witnessed Cameron's interviews with Martin.

The Ethics committee apparently has to call it quits because it is not set up to wage lengthy legal battles to obtain information or to cope with witnesses who lie. The RCMP claims that they will not release their tapes of the 1996 Pelossi testimony to the committee because they don't want to compromise a possible future investigation into the matter - despite the lackluster nature of their investigation to date. The Globe also reports that "At yesterday's in camera session, MPs also agreed to drop their pursuit of Mr. Mulroney's tax records. The committee members feel they have the power to do so, but that Mr. Mulroney might challenge the request in court, leading to a prolonged fight."

It is starting to be clear that the RCMP did not want and does not want to find evidence that Mulroney took bribes while prime minister. Their investigation was inadequate at best and yet they have implied, or at least they have allowed people to believe, that the end of their investigation effectively cleared Mulroney. It is shameful that the RCMP has never made any of their findings public, unlike official investigators in Germany and Switzerland. Mulroney may be innocent, but this is not the way to allay doubts about him.

What's next? Before closing up shop, the Globe says that the committee will hear from Schreiber on February 26 and Mulroney on February 28. It may also hear from Elmer Mackay, and I hope (but am not optimistic) that he will be more truthful than his former colleagues.

I hope that the end of the committee isn't just a winding down of interest in this matter. We need to get to the bottom of questions of Mulroney corruption during and after his time in office - somehow, through the committee or a public inquiry.


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