Mulroney and the money

We need an inquiry now

“This is not a route that I want to go down,” our prime minister declared last week in response to Liberal calls he appoint an inquiry to find how, why and what-for Karlheinz Schreiber, the German-Canadian wheeler-dealer lobbyist and influence peddler, handed former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney $300,000 in cash in 1993 and 1994.

But then Stephen Harper went even further, adding ominously: “I don’t think that if the Liberal party thought twice about it, it is a power they would want to give me.” If he was forced to investigate Mulroney, his mentor, Harper explained, he might just have to launch his own probes into the business dealings of former Liberal prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. And who knew where that could lead? Even suggesting the need for such an inquiry, suggested Harper in his best imitation of a thuggish schoolyard bully-boy, was “really extraordinarily dangerous.”

Earth to Stephen Harper. Canadians aren’t interested in your petty playground politics. If there is evidence that either Chrétien or Martin had their fingers in the cookie jar or illegally used their power to influence decisions to benefit themselves or their friends, by all means, bring it on.

But even if such cases can be made, they do nothing to answer the still legitimate — and very troubling — questions about Brian Mulroney’s now well documented but still unexplained business dealings with Scheriber, a man he once claimed publicly he barely knew and had never had business dealings with.

That was simply not true.

Schreiber and Mulroney have known each other for 30 years. In the late seventies, in fact, Schreiber helped bankroll Mulroney’s campaign to overthrow then-Conservative leader Joe Clark and grab that prize for himself.

Certainly, that was not a small favour in political terms. And not one that could easily be forgotten

Consider also what we know — and don’t — about Schreiber, Mulroney and the mysterious $300,000.

During the late eighties, Schreiber’s lobbyist job description included spreading “grease money” to anyone who could help his German clients sell Airbus jets to Air Canada. In 1993, three years before Mulroney testified he barely knew him, Schreiber used one of those secret, Swiss grease-money accounts — this one code-named “Briton” which Schreiber says was a reference to Mulroney — to withdraw $300,000 in one-thousand-dollar bills, which he then stuffed into envelopes and doled out to Mulroney at various clandestine meetings around North America. Mulroney did not pay taxes on the $300,000 until years after he got it and then only after journalists had begun asking questions about the payments. Schreiber now claims the former prime minister’s advisors even tried to convince him to lie about what Mulroney had actually done to earn his money.

To complicate matters — and make the need for an inquiry even more obvious to all but the most partisan — we also now know that Mulroney’s blatantly disingenuous (to be kind) declaration that he had only had coffee “once or twice” with Schreiber and that he “had never had any dealings with him” helped convince the federal government to turn tail and run from Mulroney’s massively hyped civil suit against it, publicly apologizing for maligning his good name and agreeing to pay him $2.1 million to make it all go away.

When it finally became clear last year — thanks to diligent investigative reporting by the CBC’s Fifth Estate, one of the few media outlets to take this scandal seriously — that Mulroney had … ahem … not been entirely forthcoming about his relationship with Schreiber, non-political officials in the federal justice department began an investigation to determine whether there were grounds to seek the return of the settlement they had paid Mulroney.

Those inquiries were summarily squashed by Harper’s justice minister, raising even more questions, including whether Harper’s government is engaged in continuing political interference in the case.

While the same sycophantic parliamentary puppy press gallery that has done its best to downplay this story for years was at pains again last week to make clear there are still no dot-to-dot connections among Mulroney, Airbus and the $300,000 — “There is no evidence that Mulroney knew that the source of the money he got from Schreiber was potentially tainted,” as Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hebert wrote for the majority — the evidence is already damning enough. We have a right to know the whole story. And Harper has a duty to make sure we know it.

This is not a matter of partisan politics but of public trust. Unfortunately, our prime minister, as is all too usual with him, seems to have confused the two.

Stephen Kimber is the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of King’s College. His column, Kimber’s Nova Scotia, appears in The Sunday Daily News.

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