03/13/2015 03:03 EDT | Updated 05/13/2015 05:59 EDT

Naresh Bhardwaj leaves cabinet amid bribery allegations

Incumbent Edmonton-EllerslieMLANareshBhardwaj has left cabinet while the Conservative party investigates allegations of attempts to undermine another candidate’s nomination campaign, said Alberta Premier Jim Prentice.

"Obviously, as leader of the party, I want to make sure that those allegations are investigated and we are looking into them," Prentice told reporters Friday. "I have not received a report in terms of where they stand or what they have found."

Prentice said he spoke with Bhardwaj, the associate minister for persons with disabilities, earlier today. 

"He vehemently disagrees with the allegations that have been made," he said. "I only know what I read about those allegations.

"My understanding is that he has retained legal counsel and he is going to take steps to clear his name from those allegations. And in the meantime, he has indicated that he will step aside from being an associate minister in the government."

Bhardwaj will remain in caucus until the internal investigation is completed.

Bhardwaj has not responded to interview requests from CBC News.

Prentice said he has been told Bhardwaj is now suing the person who made a criminal allegation against him.

As first reported by Metro newspapers earlier this week, party member Balbir Sidhu  publicly accused Bhardwaj of offering him, through another person, a $10,000 bribe in return for recanting his official support for candidate Balraj Manhas.

Metro reported that Manhas was called a few days before the nomination ballot and told by constituency representatives that if he did not withdraw he would be publicly disqualified because nomination papers were invalid.

Two of Manhas’ supporters, including Sidhu, swore affidavits, obtained by Metro, which claim Bhardwaj, or others acting for him, asked them to sign prepared affidavits stating their names had improperly appeared on Manhas’ nomination form. Each candidate must have 25 signed sponsors.

Metro reported that Bilal Ali swore an affidavit in which he claimed his family was approached by three men, including Bhardwaj, and told to sign a document which he believed was to confirm their support for Manhas. Ali told Metro he later realized the document was used to disqualify Manhas from the race.

Conservative party executive director Kelley Charlebois has publicly confirmed the allegations are under investigation.