Friday, December 14, 2007

Mulroney testimony aftermath

1. Al Rosen, one of the country's pre-eminent forensic accountants, is quoted in the Globe today on the Mulroney testimony about using safety deposit boxes and the delayed tax payments. The upshot being that Mulroney did not resolve much of anything yesterday by his efforts. Instead, he made it much more likely that the questions will continue:
Mr. Mulroney told the House of Commons ethics committee yesterday that he received $225,000 in cash from Mr. Schreiber in 1993 and 1994, but as a retainer, so he didn't pay taxes on it right away. Instead of a trust account, the cash was kept in his safe and a New York safety deposit box.

Mr. Mulroney said he never sent Mr. Schreiber an invoice to indicate when the retainer became a payment for services. He paid the taxes in 1999 through a program that allows people to declare income they omitted to report in previous years. And although Mr. Mulroney said much of the money went to expenses that could have been deducted, he paid taxes on the whole $225,000.

"It just raises many more questions than it answers," said Toronto forensic accountant Al Rosen. "If it was in court, with a decent lawyer, we would have fed the lawyer 50 questions to ask him."
...
Mr. Mulroney said that he did work over three years, and took most of the money out of the safe and the safety deposit box years later, when he "settled" the deal, and paid taxes.

"As I mentioned in my statement, I had to pay for expenses, and then I concluded that the relationship was finished. So I compensated myself for my professional work, as a consequence," Mr. Mulroney told the committee.

He testified that he no longer has the records of his spending, but added that he never issued an invoice to Mr. Schreiber.

Professionals typically issue an invoice when services are rendered to mark the point at which money becomes their income. Mr. Rosen said he has seen cases where professionals did not issue such an invoice, but noted it's "unusual" to keep a retainer in cash.
As Joe Comartin noted yesterday, at the end of the Mulroney testimony, in the scrum, as a lawyer or businessperson, it is extremely odd for professionals to deal in cash this way and not create the proper records. The fact that Mulroney destroyed records having to do with Schreiber is equally questionable. Not keeping records and destroying any that did exist. Both highly suspect practices.

2. Bravo again to Andrew Coyne for being the voice of reason on the national stage. On the At Issue panel last night, he asked a great question: why did Mr. Mulroney never tell anyone, until the last few days, that he had been hired by Schreiber to lobby Russia, China et al. to buy tanks? What held him back? His reluctance to clear the air on these matters until to date has rendered his flimsy explanation unconvincing. The fact that both Boris Yeltsin and Francois Mitterand are dead, two of the leaders he claims to have lobbied, does not help the matter.

Coyne also is insistent upon a public inquiry occurring, despite the nattering lazy nabobs - and the very self-interested, i.e., Mulroney himself - who are starting to shrug their shoulders and muse about whether it's worthwhile after all. We should care about the truth more than we care about moving on to the next scintillating story. There are too many unresolved issues here that require skill and time to get to the bottom of. It's worth it, for our nation's history and our government's integrity.

3. Russ Hiebert was a little quick on the draw out of the committee room yesterday with a brand spanking new printed statement to read to the assembled reporters. He went white as a sheet when Julie Van Dusen (I think it was her) asked him how he had been able to draft his statement and print it out so quickly. After fumbling a bit, he came up with some claptrap about there being no limitations on access to technology in the House, said young Russ. Good thinking, guy. But we all know the score.

Your statement was fresh off the presses from the PMO and you're their go to mouthpiece. They've decided they've had enough with the Ethics Committee hearings and had you read out loud that it's time to put everything in the hands of a public inquiry, to take place at some unknown future date and with now uncertain terms of reference. And by then, with a potentially German bound Schreiber. Nice try, guys. But this thing has taken on a life of its own now. And thank you Russ for being so kind as to convey the fears of the PMO directly to us. They want this thing to end, like, now.

4. Mr. Mulroney's statement yesterday that no details of a business deal were discussed at Harrington Lake while he was still PM is difficult to believe. He admitted that about one month later, an actual business arrangement was reached. It makes sense, then, to think that some discussion of the matter occurred in June at the Harrington Lake meeting.
The 1993 Harrington Lake meeting: Schreiber says no detailed business arrangements were discussed at the prime minister's country retreat in Quebec, but "it was very clear, we agreed to work together."

It was not just a courtesy visit to bid farewell to a departing prime minister, he said, suggesting it makes no sense that Mulroney would send a staffer to pick up "a guy who just wanted to say goodbye."

5. Best exchange of the day:
Menard, however, insisted that the use of cash, in large bills, left the impression that Mulroney may have had something to hide.

"Do you know why the $1,000 bills were eliminated [by the government]?" he asked.

"To eliminate $1,000 transactions," Mulroney responded.

"Yes, because generally they are used for illegal ends," Menard observed.

But Mulroney continued: "There was nothing illegal . . . it should have suggested to me, that I should be cautious and [should be] careful, I do concede that."
Man, this stuff is just unbelievable...

And so there you have it...it's the Christmas break now for MP's, as of today, yet the saga will go on...