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Ex-Harper chief of staff Nigel Wright rejoins Onex

Nigel Wright, former chief of staff for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, appears before a parliamentary committee in Ottawa, Nov. 2, 2010.


The man who was forced to quit as Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff because of the Mike Duffy expenses affair is set to return to his high-paying job doing billion-dollar corporate takeovers.

Nigel Wright, who was cleared in April by police of any wrongdoing for helping Mr. Duffy repay Senate expenses, is expected to rejoin buyout firm Onex Corp. by month's end, company founder and chief executive officer Gerry Schwartz said in an interview on Wednesday. Mr. Schwartz said he is "hopeful" Mr. Wright will return, and that he will probably move to London to join the buyout firm's office there.

Being in London would provide Mr. Wright a respite from the Canadian media and any lingering attention on the Duffy affair, which arose last year after reports that Mr. Wright wrote a $90,000 personal cheque to Mr. Duffy so he could repay expense claims that had been deemed improper.

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The Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigated, and said in April that Mr. Wright would not face charges, clearing the way to return to Onex, which he left in 2011.

Mr. Wright was "100-per-cent exonerated by as thorough an investigation as humanly possible," Mr. Schwartz said, and now he "will pick up where he left off, doing what he does so well."

Before taking a leave from Onex in 2011 to become Mr. Harper's chief of staff, Mr. Wright was one of the most senior executives at Mr. Schwartz's firm. He led efforts to make major acquisitions and improve the performance of the companies Onex bought.

He oversaw the takeovers of companies such as Spirit AeroSystems Inc., a unit of Boeing that Onex built into the world's biggest manufacturer of airliner components. Onex has made more than $800-million reselling its stake in the company.

When he left for Ottawa, it was seen as a coup for the Prime Minister to lure one of the most respected businesspeople in Toronto to help run the government. While Mr. Wright's compensation at Onex was not public, it would have meant a huge pay cut. Onex's executives are among the most highly paid in Canada. Mr. Schwartz made $129-million in 2013, and three other executives who held similar ranks to Mr. Wright were paid about $20-million apiece.

His pay when he was at Onex enabled Mr. Wright to write the cheque that created the furour. Mr. Duffy was embroiled in a controversy over his expenses and had pledged to return any misspent funds. After discussions with Mr. Duffy and some communications with Mr. Harper, Mr. Wright decided to pick up the tab to ensure that taxpayers were not left with Mr. Duffy's expense claims.

Once the move came to light, it created an uproar in Parliament, with many questions over the legality of such a large, secret payment to a sitting legislator.

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During the investigation, RCMP investigators considered both the Criminal Code and the Parliament of Canada Act, including potential charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery.

In a statement in April, the force said "the evidence gathered does not support criminal charges against Mr. Wright."

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson dismissed any political interference in the probe, stating the facts uncovered by the Mounties did not signal any criminal activity.

"If you can't demonstrate or explain to another human that there is an offence there, then you've got nothing," Commissioner Paulson said.

While support for Mr. Wright remained strong in the business community throughout the affair, the RCMP's decision opened the door to a return.

"He should feel good," Mr. Schwartz said. "We certainly feel good."

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