POLITICS

Mounties broaden probe of Sen. Mike Duffy's expenses to include Mac Harb

06/20/2013 03:50 EDT | Updated 08/20/2013 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - The police investigation into the Senate expenses scandal grew wider Thursday with the release of court documents that indicate the Mounties are now looking into a second senator.

Documents released from the Ottawa courthouse show the RCMP's Sensitive and International Investigations unit has obtained property records for a house in Cobden, Ont., once owned by Sen. Mac Harb.

Property records show Harb sold the house at 62 Durack Line Rd. in Cobden, about 120 kilometres west of Ottawa, two years ago.

The court documents mark the first acknowledgment that the RCMP is investigating Harb. Cpl. Lucy Shorey, a spokeswoman for the RCMP, declined further comment.

"We are not in a position to comment any further at this time," Shorey wrote in an email.

The name "Project Amble" is written under the heading "Nature of Event" on the exhibit report. It's unclear if the name refers only to the Harb investigation or to the Senate probe more broadly.

Harb, a Liberal who now sits as an independent, is among the senators in trouble for improperly claimed living expenses.

Following an external audit, Harb was ordered to repay $51,500 in housing and living expenses claimed over the two-year period of the audit. But the Senate has since demanded that he repay $231,649, covering eight years.

Harb filed a court application Monday to have the Senate's repayment order quashed.

Harb was an Ottawa city councillor from 1985-88 and represented the riding of Ottawa Centre as a Liberal MP from 1988-2003, when he was appointed to the Senate by former prime minister Jean Chretien.

He quit the Liberal caucus and now sits as an independent, pending the outcome of his court action.

In his application, Harb says he lived in a rented apartment in central Ottawa when he was an MP. However, shortly after his appointment to the Senate, he purchased a house in the Pembroke area and consulted with Paul Belisle, then Senate clerk, about whether he was entitled to declare his new house as his primary residence.

Since it was more than 100 kilometres outside the national capital region, Belisle informed Harb he could declare it as his primary residence and claim a housing allowance and living expenses for a secondary residence in Ottawa.

Harb says he followed all the rules and that Senate administration and finance officials approved his residency declarations and his expense claims.

Although the external auditors concluded the rules were not clear, Harb says the Senate's internal economy committee disregarded that conclusion, imposed stiffer criteria for declaring primary residency and then applied it retroactively to him.

Harb also argues that the internal economy committee was not impartial, that the Prime Minister's Office interfered in its decisions and that he was denied his right to legal counsel and a fair hearing.

Sen. Patrick Brazeau, a former Conservative who now also sits as an independent, is also vowing to go to court to fight the Senate's order that he repay $48,745 in improperly claimed living expenses.

Harb's lawyer said Thursday the senator was unaware the RCMP was looking into his expenses.

"It was known that the RCMP was looking into senators' expenses generally, but no specifics on Mr. Harb," lawyer Simon Ruel wrote in an email.

"The RCMP has not been in touch with us or Mr. Harb."

The RCMP is also combing through the campaign returns of 11 Conservative candidates for whom Sen. Mike Duffy campaigned during the last federal election, the court documents show.

The court documents indicate the Duffy investigation is being handled as an alleged breach of trust case.

The documents indicate Elections Canada handed over the campaign returns to the RCMP on June 5.

The RCMP asked Elections Canada for candidate files on Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and current Conservative MPs Gerald Keddy, Greg Kerr, John Carmichael and Wladyslaw Lizon, among others.

Those returns are presumably related to expense claims Duffy submitted while Parliament was dissolved during the last federal election, reporting he was on Senate business on days he appeared to be campaigning for the party.

Reports filed by Const. Jane Won Kyung Lee show the RCMP also obtained a DVD containing Duffy's declarations of primary and secondary residence, expense claims, minutes of the Senate's internal economy committee from May 28 and a report by the committee clerk from that same day.

The Mounties have also obtained a second DVD containing more expense claims.

Duffy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The RCMP has also confirmed it has launched a formal investigation into the involvement of Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former chief of staff.

Wright resigned as Harper's chief of staff last month after acknowledging he gave $90,000 to Duffy to enable him to reimburse the Senate for improperly claimed living expenses.