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Jeffrey Simpson (Bill Grimshaw)
Jeffrey Simpson (Bill Grimshaw)

Jeffrey Simpson

Oliphant applied the smell test - and Mulroney failed Add to ...

After all the testimony, and after all these years, it's hard to imagine that Mr. Justice Jeffrey Oliphant could have concluded anything else. Said he, in a report released Monday: The conduct of former prime minister Brian Mulroney in his relations with arms dealer Karlheinz Schreiber was "inappropriate."

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In layman's language, what Mr. Mulroney did, and how he tried to justify his actions, wouldn't pass a smell test in any coffee joint across Canada.

Taking cash in envelopes. Storing the cash-filled envelopes other than in a bank. Not reporting the income for years thereafter. Claiming the money was for non-services rendered in pursuit of contracts in other countries for armoured vehicles about which Mr. Mulroney knew little or nothing. The whole string of events was implausible and sleazy, tarring Mr. Mulroney's reputation.

Mr. Schreiber is now in jail in Germany, sentenced soon after his extradition to eight years in prison for income-tax evasion. Although much attention was focused on his unsavoury relations with Mr. Mulroney, the long-term question posed - but never answered - by his dealings was how he managed to play the Canadian justice system for a fool, stringing out appeals, delaying and postponing extradition, leaving judges and lawyers with much to be explained.

Somebody, somewhere should review how he turned the Canadian judicial system into a laughingstock, because who knows in future which person wanted overseas will draw inspiration or direct lessons from Mr. Schreiber's successes? What was needed was a judge with a big hammer willing to slam it on the table for justice and to stop the nonsense. None was found, to Mr. Schreiber's delight.

Karlheinz Schreiber was a sleazebag of the first order, and was so seen by such politicians as John Crosbie and Peter Lougheed, who threw him out of their offices and instructed their staffs to have nothing to do with him. But he managed to ingratiate himself with friends and advisers of Mr. Mulroney, and then with Mr. Mulroney himself, who falsely claimed that he had barely met Mr. Schreiber.

Mr. Mulroney's explanations about his relations with Mr. Schreiber ranged from the disingenuous to the implausible to the inaccurate, as Mr. Oliphant underscored. And those explanations, alas for Mr. Mulroney, furthered his reputation as someone excessively given to exaggerations.

In particular, Judge Oliphant, being a person of common sense, simply found impossible to believe that Mr. Mulroney had not revealed the existence of the cash in envelopes because an investigator had not asked him about the cash.

Judge Oliphant was not asked to look into the Airbus affair; that is, the circumstances under which Air Canada purchased Airbus aircraft while Mr. Mulroney was prime minister. But it does appear from the Oliphant inquiry that Mr. Schreiber got a payment for every aircraft purchased, the kind of payoff he lived off while peddling arms and aircraft in Germany, Canada and elsewhere.

European companies such as Airbus were accustomed to paying middlemen and, depending on the country, people with power to decide whether or not to purchase their aircraft. There remain a host of unanswered questions about where the Airbus money went after lining Mr. Schreiber's pockets, but it is plausible that Airbus paid him and others, believing they had had influence whereas in fact they had none. Airbus didn't care, because for such a large company, payments to Mr. Schreiber were the stuff of nickels and dimes.

As for Mr. Mulroney, he has no one to blame but himself for his dealings with Mr. Schreiber, knowing what the chap did for a living and how he operated. Mr. Mulroney has belatedly admitted that he deserves this blame, but his tortuous explanations about his dealings with Mr. Schreiber after leaving 24 Sussex Dr. strained credibility and certainly did not pass muster with Judge Oliphant.

It is ironic that Mr. Schreiber's dealings should have sullied the reputation of two G8 leaders who knew and worked with each other: Mr. Mulroney and former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, whose party received Schreiber contributions.

Both men, when a full historical accounting is rendered, will be properly credited with having accomplished important things for their countries. Their records, however, will have attached to them the same asterisk: Karlheinz Schreiber.

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