Judge set to release verdict on Brian Mulroney’s conduct

OTTAWA – Justice Jeffrey Oliphant is expected to deliver his opinion Monday on whether Brian Mulroney’s once-secret cash dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber live up to the “highest standard of conduct” the former prime minister championed for high office holders when he was in power.

The Manitoba judge will release his much-anticipated report at 1 p.m. ET — the climax of a $16-million public inquiry into the appropriateness of the former prime minister’s commercial relationship with the German-Canadian lobbyist.

Justice Oliphant has made clear he would weigh Mr. Mulroney’s behaviour against the ethical standards he espoused as prime minister. In particular, he cited a line in Mr. Mulroney’s 1988 “guidance to ministers” that said they should act in a “manner so scrupulous that it will bear the closest possible scrutiny.”

In a statement to the inquiry before the public hearings began, Justice Oliphant said: “A finding of inappropriateness will be made only if there is credible evidence that Mr. Mulroney acted in a manner that falls short of conduct, that, objectively, is so scrupulous that it can bear the closest possible scrutiny.”

The price tag so far for the inquiry includes an estimated $14-million for the commission itself, and at least $1.8-million that Mr. Mulroney’s lawyers have already collected from the government.

In a sign Prime Minister Stephen Harper is keen to move past the inquiry into the behaviour of a former Conservative prime minister, he agreed to make the report public three hours after it is delivered to the government.

The two major players in the story will not be in Ottawa.

Mr. Mulroney, who has the most at stake, has decided to keep a long-standing speaking commitment in Toronto. Schreiber is now behind bars in Germany, serving an eight-year prison term for tax evasion.

Their lawyers will, however, be allowed to read the report in a lockup from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., so they can brief their clients as soon as the report is publicly released — with a verbal statement by Justice Oliphant — at the government conference centre.

Mr. Harper, who ordered the inquiry, asked Justice Oliphant to investigate the appropriateness of Mr. Mulroney’s dealings with Schreiber before and after he resigned as prime minister on June 25, 1993.

At the heart of the inquiry were the three cash payments of at least $225,000 that Mr. Mulroney says he took from Schreiber in exchange for lobbying internationally on behalf of a German-designed, light-armoured vehicle that Schreiber wanted built in Canada for export. He acknowledged he got the first of three cash-stuffed envelopes at the end of August when he was still an MP.

Schreiber said he paid Mr. Mulroney $300,000 cash to lobby domestically for the plan, known as the Bear Head project.

Justice Oliphant had no mandate to find criminal or civil wrongdoing. Nor did he have a mandate to revisit allegations of kickbacks that swirled around Schreiber, Mr. Mulroney and others about Air Canada’s $1.8-billion purchase of Airbus planes in 1988.

Mr. Mulroney has called accepting the cash payments a “serious error in judgment.” But he has insisted he did nothing illegal and no ethics guides were violated.

SIDEBAR: Here are some of the key questions Justice Oliphant was asked to answer:

“¢Â Where and when did Mr. Mulroney and Schreiber reach their agreement?

“¢ Was there an agreement to work for Schreiber reached while Mr. Mulroney was still prime minister, or an MP, that would have violated limitation periods prescribed by the 1985 ethics code?

“¢ What was the source of the funds for Schreiber’s payments to Mr. Mulroney?

“¢ What happened to a cash payment of at least $75,000 that Mr. Mulroney admits he got in New York in December 1994?

“¢ Were the business and financial dealings appropriate considering Mr. Mulroney’s position?

“¢ Was there appropriate disclosure and reporting of the business dealings and payments?

“¢ Are additional ethical guides needed to cover the activities of politicians as they transition out of elected office or after they leave?

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