Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cache of e-mails handed to RCMP

OTTAWA—The federal government says it is handing over to police a recently-discovered cache of e-mails belonging to Benjamin Perrin, former counsel for the Prime Minister’s Office and a central figure in the Senate spending scandal.
The Privy Council Office yesterday released a letter to the RCMP saying it had been mistaken when it originally told investigators that Perrin’s e-mails were deleted, in keeping with standard procedure, when he left the job in March.

In fact, Perrin’s e-mails already were being preserved in connection with an unrelated matter, says the letter, which is signed by Isabelle Mondou, assistant secretary to the cabinet in the office of the counsel to the Clerk of the Privy Council.
“Upon Mr. Perrin’s departure at the end of his employment in late March, 2013, the PMO was provided a notice that his e-mails had been deleted from the computer server,” Mondou writes.
“On Nov. 29, 2013, we found that Mr. Perrin’s e-mails had, in fact, been retained due to a litigation hold in an unrelated matter.”
Perrin’s name appears repeatedly in RCMP documents released two weeks ago containing explosive allegations about a scheme to repay Sen. Mike Duffy’s disallowed housing expenses and whitewash a Senate report into the controversy.
The documents allege senior PMO staffers—including Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff and the man who paid Duffy’s $90,000 bill—were involved in trying to work out a deal with Duffy to repay his expenses and worked with top Tory senators to change a report on Duffy after unsuccessfully trying to shape an independent audit into his expenses.
In May, Perrin denied he was ever consulted about, or participated in, Wright’s decision to cover Duffy’s expenses, and said he never communicated with Harper about it.
But e-mails disclosed by the RCMP in documents filed in court show Perrin was intimately involved in negotiations with Duffy’s lawyer, Janice Payne, who set out five conditions—including full reimbursement—that had to be met in return for Duffy’s admission that he mistakenly claimed a housing allowance to which he was not entitled.
Indeed, Wright at one point e-mailed Duffy in exasperation, saying that if the senator continued to misquote him, they would converse in future strictly through their lawyers, Perrin and Payne.
The deal originally involved the Conservative party reimbursing Duffy for repaying his expenses while curtailing an audit into his claims.
Conservative Fund chairman Irving Gerstein, also a senator, initially agreed to reimburse Duffy when the tab was thought to be only $32,000 but balked when it became clear it was upwards of $90,000.
At Wright’s behest, Gerstein also solicited information from a contact at auditing firm Deloitte about the status of their report on Duffy.
The RCMP alleges Wright and Duffy committed bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in cooking up the deal.
The allegations have not been proven in court and no one has yet been charged.
However, last week, University of Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran filed a complaint against both Perrin and Payne with the law societies in British Columbia, where Perrin now teaches law at UBC, and Ontario, where Payne practices.
He claims the duo “violated the ethics of the profession” in helping to craft an illegal deal between Wright and Duffy.
The new cache of Perrin e-mails could shed further light on his involvement in the transaction.
The Privy Council Office says it will “immediately turn over these e-mail records” to the RCMP and that it has apologized to both the RCMP and the Prime Minister’s Office.
“We regret that we previously failed, even if inadvertently, to accurately inform you and the PMO about the availability of Mr. Perrin’s e-mails,” Mondou writes.
“We apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused.”

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