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A copy of a refund cheque issued to Nicolo Ruzzuto.

RADIO-CANADA

The Canada Revenue Agency is acknowledging that it "incorrectly" sent a $381,737 tax refund to mob boss Nicolo Rizzuto, and vowing to crack down on any wrongdoing inside the tax-collection agency.

But the CRA is under political pressure to explain its past actions, including a recent decision to shut down a unit that specifically audited criminal figures and their associates.

The Minister of National Revenue, Kerry-Lynne Findlay, refused to speak to the media on Thursday as her staff said "the minister's schedule does not allow for interviews in the next few days."

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The opposition accused Ms. Findlay of "running away from her ministerial responsibilities" while the House of Commons is prorogued until Oct. 16.

At the time of the payment to Mr. Rizzuto in 2007, the CRA had a $1.5-million lien on his home, which meant he was not eligible for a reimbursement, according to court records and retired officials.

"This suggests either incompetence or corruption," NDP MP Murray Rankin said in an interview.

In a written statement issued by her office, Ms. Findlay said "the income tax refund that was incorrectly sent to Rizzuto has been recovered in its entirety."

"This Government considers any misconduct by tax officials unacceptable. Those responsible for misconduct must be held accountable," Ms. Findlay said. "We are acting to hold people accountable. We are committed to cracking down on crime and protecting the integrity of our tax system."

Mr. Rankin said he fears that recent budget cuts inside the CRA have hindered the agency's ability to crack down on organized crime, after the cancellation of the Special Enforcement Program (SEP) last year. "It's another example of the government's mania to cut programs," the NDP MP said. "How on earth is this good management?"

Retired SEP officials have blasted the demise of their unit, stating regular auditors cannot be expected to pick up the slack. A former CRA auditor who retired after a 35-year career, Robert Martin, said the continuing reorganization hindered his work on a major file. He added that when members of the criminal underworld found out about the SEP's shutdown, they likely "popped champagne."

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"When Ottawa made this decision, they didn't think it through. They didn't have a Plan B to determine who would now be in charge of these types of files," Mr. Martin said.

Over the years, SEP officials built relations of trust with police investigators. Without the SEP in place, Mr. Martin said, police bodies "aren't interested in passing along their files to auditors."

CRA spokesman Noël Carisse said the agency is still pursuing the objectives and the mandate of the unit, stating "taxpayers suspected of deriving income from illegal activities continue to be risk assessed and appropriate compliance action is taken by the CRA."

"All resources dedicated to SEP were reallocated and remain within the CRA's Compliance Programs Branch's (CPB) audit and enforcement programs," he said in a statement.

The CRA has been shaken by allegations that its Montreal offices were infiltrated by a group of corrupt employees. An investigation launched in 2008 resulted in fraud and corruption charges against six former officials. The cases are all still before the courts.

The CRA refused to provide more details on the cheque or state whether it launched an internal investigation to find out who had approved the payment, citing confidentiality laws. Still, the CRA said it pursued its case against Mr. Rizzuto to the end. "It would be highly irresponsible to suggest that there was anything inappropriate, illicit or nefarious in CRA's dealings with this specific taxpayer. Any suggestion that CRA did not devote the proper resources or attention to this situation is unequivocally false," Mr. Carisse said.

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Mr. Rizzuto pleaded guilty to tax evasion three years later, paying a fine of $209,200 after failing to declare $728,000 in interest revenues on $5-million in Swiss bank accounts. He was assassinated in late 2010, at the age of 86, by a gunman who shot him through a window in his house.

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