Poor Brian. There’s no end to it.
Stephen Harper et Brian Mulroney
Almost two decades ago, the Mounties were making his life miserable, trying to link him to payoffs in the Airbus scandal.
They were investigating documents from Europe that Airbus Industrie had paid $20 million dollars in ‘super commissions’ to unnamed Canadian politicians to facilitate the sale of 34 Airbus 300 passenger jets to Air Canada, then a crown corporation, at a cost of $1.3 billion.
Karlheinz Schreiber, a prominent arms dealer and long-time Mulroney friend, was point-man for Airbus on the sale.
There was never any evidence that Mulroney was involved or even that any bribes had been paid. They had nothing against anybody that would stand up in court.
Finally the Mounties had to admit in writing that there wasn’t the slightest shred of evidence against Mulroney, and then Justice Minister Allan Rock, whose officials had written all sorts of terrible calumnies about Mulroney in a letter to the German government, had to pay Mulroney $2 million in damages.
That should have been the end of it. But it wasn’t.
Now it’s a commission of inquiry.
Stephen Harper has appointed a commission of inquiry headed by Manitoba Associate Chief Justice Jeff Oliphant to investigate the financial dealings between Mulroney and his former friend Schreiber.
That’s because in 2007, Mulroney testified under oath before a parliamentary ethics committee that in 1993 and 1994 he had accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from Schreiber in hotel rooms in Montreal and New York.
Mulroney said the money was to help promote Canadian-made light armoured vehicles overseas for Thyssen Industrie, to be manufactured at a plant to be built in Canada with federal help.
Mulroney says some of the money he got went into a safety deposit box in a New York bank and the rest into a safe in his basement in Montreal. Six years later he got around to paying taxes on the money.
Mulroney said he went off and met the leaders of France, Russia and Communist China to make the arms sales. Unfortunately those leaders are all dead now, so they can’t testify on Mulroney’s behalf.
The plant was never built, no tanks ever produced, no sales were ever made, and now Schreiber wants his money back.
As for the Oliphant Commission, the judge has a mandate to determine the “appropriateness” of what Mulroney did, and whether he acted within ethical norms. There’s no question of the commission deciding anybody’s criminal guilt or innocence. It is not a court of law.
In a way, Mulroney is the architect of his own misfortune. He didn’t have to tell his story about the cash in hotel rooms; he didn’t have to ask Harper for an inquiry. He could have let the whole thing stay buried.
If only he could have kept his mouth shut. But no, he felt his reputation was at stake and he wanted to defend it publicly. Now he’ll get his chance.
Wait, it gets worse. Mulroney’s former chief of staff, Fred Doucet, lately a lobbyist in Ottawa, told the parliamentary ethics committee under oath in 2007 that he didn’t know anything about Airbus.
And then mysteriously this summer, a document surfaces, purportedly written by Doucet, which seems to contradict that sworn testimony.
Doucet wants a chance to tell his story, so Justice Oliphant gives him standing before the commission, which means lawyers for everybody else will get chance too.
And suddenly Airbus, which Mulroney, Harper and Schreiber very much wanted to avoid, will be back on the table.
Commissions of inquiry are like that. They have a habit of going where politicians don’t expect. Remember the Gomery commission? And guess what? Judges have a mind of their own. They decide what they want to hear.
As for Schreiber, German authorities have charged him with fraud, corruption and tax evasion in an unrelated matter and are waiting to get their hands on him. Schreiber says with tears in his eyes, that if he’s sent back, he’ll die in a German prison before he gets to trial.
So it’s in his interest to keep the inquiry going as long as possible. And he has lots more stories to tell.
This could be quite a summer in Ottawa.
Justice Oliphant has chosen to hold his public hearings in the same hall in Ottawa that Justice John Gomery used for his inquiry.
Ominous? What do you think?