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Mike Duffy trial: Senate HR official to wrap up testimony

04/16/2015 05:00 EDT | Updated 06/27/2015 05:59 EDT
The Crown in the Mike Duffy Senate expenses trial will get another chance to question a Senate human resources official, only the second witness to testify so far.

Sonia Makhlouf, who was questioned by Crown prosecutor Jason Neubauer earlier this week, has spent the last two days in an Ottawa courthouse facing cross-examination by Duffy's lawyer Donald Bayne.

Duffy has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery related to expenses he claimed as a senator and later repaid with money provided by the prime minister's former chief of staff.

Today marks the eighth day of the trial. But the slow pace of the witness testimony prompted Ontario Court of Justice Judge Charles Vaillancourt to say on Wednesday he expected the trial would go on longer than the 41 days allotted.

Neubauer indicated on Wednesday he would need only about half an hour to question Makhlouf Thursday before the next witness is called.

Makhlouf's job was to assess Senate research contracts and ensure services being billed pertain to parliamentary business.

On Monday, her testimony was used by the Crown to build its case that Duffy charged taxpayers for non-Senate business through contracts with his friend Gerald Donohue. Those services included payments to a volunteer, a makeup artist and a personal trainer, and for an enlarged photo of family members and one of former U.S. president's wife Barbara Bush.

But Bayne has battled back. Under cross-examination, Makhlouf admitted the rules relating to a senator's office budget were vague and that senators have broad discretion over how money is used and over who they hire. She also conceded there was virtually no oversight of research work conducted by contractors on behalf of senators.

Bayne also argued the services expensed by Duffy that have been questioned by the Crown were all appropriate. He said that it may have been "administratively irregular" for Duffy to have some of these services paid as part of a research contract, but the work could be considered Senate related. Makhlouf agreed.

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