Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ex-Prime Minister Mulroney

Or, as Reagan called him at least once (mixing him up with a then-former Prime Minister of New Zealand), Muldoon. Here is a guy who is capable of getting himself in trouble by means of his big mouth and stupid behaviour. It's amazing his face looked so good into adulthood; surely some healthy individuals, in any schoolyard or bar, would be itching to punch him out.

He's finally admitted that he took three bags of cash, at three different meetings, from a sleazy lobbyist named Karlheinz Schreiber. Schreiber has said it was $100,000 each time, for a total of $300,000; Mulroney says $75,000 and $225,000. In thousand dollar bills. A few days after he left office as Prime Minister. Obvious question: was he being paid off for something he had already done for Schreiber's clients, which would indicate he had corruptly steered the business of the Government of Canada in return for a bribe? Or was he being paid in advance for work that he had not yet started? He says the latter.

What seems clear is that he hid the money away, telling no one about it such as his accountant or any business associates, and did not declare it to Revenue Canada (which has had different names since) for six years. It's surely not tremendously unfair to say he acted like a crook taking bribes.

Perhaps what is most awkward for Mulroney is that he had been accused for years of taking bribes while in office--especially when a big order of planes for Air Canada (at the time a Crown Corporation) went to Airbus, which had been lobbying hard for it, and Boeing screamed that the fix was in. When the RCMP asked for bank records from Switzerland, to see if Mulroney or others had taken bribes, they stated more or less as a fact that Mulroney had committed criminal acts. Since there was no proof of that, Mulroney sued and won over $2.1 million.

Here is an account of Mulroney's testimony on Day One of a public inquiry. Excerpts:
Easily the strangest part was Mulroney’s overall attempt to frame the issue: that the reason he went to such absurd lengths to cover up his involvement with Karlheinz Schreiber — the wads of $1000 bills, the safety deposit boxes, the not declaring it on his income taxes etc — was because of all the “innuendo” about his alleged involvement in the Airbus affair, as peddled by Stevie Cameron, the fifth estate etc. And of course, the “scarring” experience of being named in the letter of request to the Swiss.

First problem: Cameron’s book didn’t appear until late 1994. The first fifth estate broadcast on Airbus was in March of 1995. The story of the letter of request broke in November 1995. Mulroney took the first payment in August of 1993, and the last, if memory serves, in December 1994. He was so scarred by innuendo in 1995 that he was taking cash in 1993. Uh-huh.

Second problem: Even if there was chatter earlier than that, it still doesn’t make any sense. You’re so worried that people might believe you had taken bribes from Karlheinz Schreiber while you were Prime Minister that you take wads of cash from him after you were Prime Minister? Of all the people on this earth that you could find to take wads of cash from, you choose him?

Third problem: There’s privacy, and then there’s just plain skulking about. Mere embarrassment or concern for reputation might explain why he would be shy of talking about his dealings with Schreiber. But envelopes of cash? Safety deposit boxes? No receipts, no invoices, no expenses, no tax returns, no paper trail of any kind? And you perform this ritual, not once, but three times?

There are indications that Schreiber was transferring Airbus money to Mulroney, or attempting to--but there seems to be no proof that Mulroney ever got it. Some of his Mulroney's closest associates, as they moved to the private sector, definitely got some of this money--perhaps by promising that they could deliver far more in Ottawa than even they ever believed they could. Mulroney seems to claim he knew nothing of all this.

In 1996 Mulroney swore under oath that he had never had much to do with Schreiber. He now says that since the inquiry that year was all about Airbus, he correctly limited his answer to any possible dealings with Schreiber about Airbus. This did not include the $300K or whatever.

Finally, at least for now: there is a good chance the only reason Mulroney ever mentioned the $300K to Revenue Canada was that the CBC had reported on TV that Schreiber had withdrawn that amount from a Swiss account, and it seemed only a matter of time until it was revealed who got the money. Mulroney's response? He didn't watch the show.

A few months before Mr. Mulroney made his disclosure [to Revenue Canada], the CBC's the fifth estate revealed that Mr. Schreiber had made $300,000 worth of cash withdrawals in 1993 and 1994 from a Swiss bank account with the codename "Britan." However, Mr. Mulroney testified that he didn't watch the show.

Under questioning from his lawyer, Guy Pratte, he said at that time he wasn't speaking to Mr. Schreiber, but kept tabs on him through mutual friend and former revenue minister Elmer MacKay. "I heard from Elmer MacKay, that he, Elmer, had picked up that Mr. Schreiber was musing that perhaps I had an income tax problem. I had no income tax problem, but I got the impression that Mr. Schreiber was going to see if he couldn't create one."

It's unlikely Mulroney will ever face criminal charges, but I would like to see the Government of Canada get back our $2 million. The money was paid on the basis that it was an outrageous smear, a libellous attack on a public figure's reputation, to say he took bribes over Airbus. To say the least, it now seems clear that any intelligent observer might conclude he took bribes over something, so the RCMP statement was not a grotesque smear at all.

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