09/15/2011 10:07 EDT | Updated 11/15/2011 05:12 EST

PEI Immigration Scandal: Premier Robert Ghiz Rejects Call For Investigation

CHARLOTTETOWN - Premier Robert Ghiz of Prince Edward Island denounced a request for the RCMP to investigate bribery allegations involving a failed immigration program as cheap politics orchestrated by the province's Opposition in the midst of an election campaign.

The Liberal leader said the accusations lacked substance and were an attempt by the Conservatives to blindside his government weeks before the Oct. 3 vote.

"It's not very credible at all," Ghiz said Thursday in an interview. "We're looking forward to whatever the RCMP comes back with."

A spokesman for the federal Immigration Department said officials were made aware of the allegations earlier this week and referred them to the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency.

Sgt. Andrew Blackadar, a spokesman for the RCMP in the province, confirmed late Thursday that they did receive a referral from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

"We have now referred it to our commercial crime section for them to review and assess the information in the package," he said.

The Canada Border Services Agency declined comment.

The Liberals issued a statement earlier in the day questioning why the allegations were emerging now, more than two years after the provincial auditor general flagged a number of problems with the immigration nominee program, including questionable approvals for eligibility and funding that were ignored.

Ghiz also pointed out that the provincial Conservatives took out an advertisement that appeared in Thursday's edition of the Charlottetown Guardian directing readers to read the Globe and Mail — the same day that newspaper reported the story about the allegations.

"It's orchestrated by the Conservative party," Ghiz said. "This is dirty politics at it's best on Prince Edward Island."

Tory Leader Olive Crane said the ad was bought a while ago and it referred to a December 2009 Globe and Mail article about the province's immigration program.

"It was just coincidental," Crane said in an interview.

She praised the former employees of the immigration nominee program for coming forward with the allegations.

"It took courage to come out and bring information forward," she said.

Earlier Thursday, Svetlana Tenetko said in an interview she was one of three former immigration nominee program employees who allege that senior P.E.I. immigration officials were bribed in order to fast-track applications.

She said in 2008, while in China with those officials, she saw some of them accept cash in envelopes that she believes was intended to expedite the applications. She said she later told the RCMP her allegations during a four-hour interview at her home in Cornwall, P.E.I.

"I think the RCMP investigation has to happen," said Tenetko, who also denied she had any political motivations in coming forward with her allegations.

"I'm not a member of any party whatsoever."

The Liberals said Tenetko was hired as a contract employee to help administer the immigration program in August 2007, but that her contract was not renewed when it expired in June 2009.

The party also released an email they say she sent to Innovation Minister Allan Campbell in which she demanded another job with the government.

"I would welcome an interview to further discuss job opportunity and hope to hear from you soon at your earliest convenience," she wrote in an email dated Dec. 7, 2010.

"If I get negative answer, I will go to Ottawa to (federal Immigration) Minister (Jason) Kenney and the Globe and Mail."

Tenetko did not return subsequent calls from The Canadian Press.

The Liberals also said one of the other two former immigration program employees who spoke to the Globe and Mail about the allegations — Cora Plourd — ran for provincial Tory nominations twice and is a former employee of that party who has an ongoing discrimination claim against the government.

Plourd could not be reached for comment.

The nominee program was a federal-provincial initiative in which the province nominated people for immigration to Canada in exchange for an investment of $200,000 into a local business.

Immigrants were to pay a $25,000 good-faith deposit that would be returned after living in the province for one year.

The program was suspended in 2008 by the federal government.

At dissolution, there were 24 Liberals, two Conservatives and one vacant seat in the legislature.

— Story by Michael Tutton in Halifax.