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RCMP believe Wright broke law in cutting $90K cheque to Duffy

The prime minister's former chief of staff broke the law by cutting a $90,000 cheque to now-Independent Senator Mike Duffy, the RCMP claims in newly released court documents.

In a request for a production order filed with an Ontario court Wednesday, RCMP investigator Cpl. Greg Horton writes that he has reasonable grounds to believe both Wright and Duffy committed "breach of trust in connection with the duties of their offices."

He adds that between Feb. 6 and Mar. 28, Wright "did directly or indirectly corruptly give or offer to a member of Parliament for the benefit of that person, any money, valuable consideration, or office in respect of anything done or omitted, or to be done or omitted by him in his official capacity."

Horton, however, also reports that Wright claims Prime Minister Stephen Harper was personally unaware of Wright's plan to fund Duffy's expense repayment.

According to the court document, there was "considerable communication" within the PMO and between the PMO and several Senate leaders including former government Senate leader Marjorie LeBreton, former head of the secretive Internal Economy Committee David Tkachuck, Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen and embattled senator Mike Duffy.

In an email, the prime minister's office reiterated their position that the individuals responsible have faced sanctions for their "inappropriate actions."

"Because of their inappropriate actions, Mike Duffy has been suspended without pay as a Senator and Nigel Wright no longer works for the government," a spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in an email to iPolitics. "We have responded fully and freely to every request for assistance, including any and all documents requested."

In an letter written to the RCMP, Nigel Wright said he was unaware of any fraudulent activity on behalf of Senator Mike Duffy when he cut him the cheque.

The RCMP is now seeking email communications between the four senators, which it believes is stored on Senate computers.

Senator Tkachuck, according to the court documents, called Wright in February telling him that the Senate Board of Internal Economy's steering committee would stop the Deloitte audit if Duffy wrote a letter admitting his mistakes and asked Deloitte about the repayment plan. The deal was also approved by Stewart-Olsen, the documents allege.

On June 19, 2013, Wrights' lawyers told RCMP investigators that Wright's role within the PMO was to "manage" Conservative caucus members and deal with "matters that could cause embarrassment." His lawyers went on to say that Wright believed Duffy should repay any inappropriate claims, to which Mike Duffy responded saying he was unsure he had the money to repay the Senate nearly $100,000.

Contrary to what Senator Irving Gerstein told Conservative supporters at the Calgary convention, Wright's lawyers allege the Conservative Party of Canada was going to cover the amount he owed, but backed out once it was revealed that he owed more than $32,000.

Wright's lawyers claim he repaid Duffy's expenses on two conditions: pay the money back right away and don't talk to the media about the deal. According to documents, Wright "received no direction from anyone to make the offer."

Duffy's lawyer, Janice Payne, had different ideas. On Feb. 21, the same day Duffy agreed to repay the Senate and acknowledge he may have filed inappropriate expense claims, Payne wrote to Wright with five conditions:

  • The Deloitte audit would stop and the government would agree his expenses were OK
  • The government would make a written statement
  • An agreement that Duffy was in this situation because of all the work he did for the government and would be reimbursed for travel claims and legal fees
  • Duffy would be allowed to submit claims at a later date if the rules changed
  • The government would produce consistent speaking points that Duffy simply made a mistake.

Contrary to the prime minister's initial claims, three staffers within the PMO -- David van Hemmen, Bejamin Perrin and Chris Woodcook -- knew of the repayment arrangement, the court documents claim. In October, the prime minister amended his version of events, saying "very few" people were informed of the arrangement.

But Wright's involvement in the Senate scandal dates much further back than anyone first realized. In an interview with the RCMP, Wright said he first got involved in the case back in February, when the media reported that Duffy had applied for a P.E.I. health card. Wright called Tkachuck to "get an assessment of the situation," then called him a few days after to ask Tkachuck to change the wording in the press release about Senator Duffy's expenses to "differentiate the Deloitte referral of Senator Duffy, from that of Senators Brazeau and Harb."

The accommodation, the document states, was made by adding a line that the Senate was seeking legal advice about Duffy's residency requirement.

Yesterday in question period the prime minister said that his office has been co-operating with the RCMP and had provided several documents. The prime minister refused to answer a direct question from NDP leader Thomas Mulcair about how many documents the PMO handed over.

After learning about the RCMP investigation into Nigel Wright's actions, the prime minister ordered his staff to retain all emails and correspondents in case the RCMP requested them at a later date. Common practice within the PMO is to delete all emails once an employee leaves.

The RCMP previously filed a production order seeking the banking information of Duffy and Wright. Duffy is one of three senators being investigated for breach of trust and fraud.

Annie Bergeron-Oliver reports for iPolitics, where this article first appeared.

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