A public inquiry into Airbus affair would be a great show

People should be careful about Mulroney - he's not a guy you would want to mess with

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The Gazette, Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Here's a friendly suggestion for anyone thinking of taking on Brian Mulroney - don't bring a knife to a gunfight.

In calling for a full public inquiry into his business dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber, Mulroney wants to reopen the Airbus matter going all the way back to the beginning. And he means to put his accusers, every one of them, on the stand.

His statement is quite clear about that: "In order to finally put this matter to rest, and expose all the facts and the role played by all the people involved, from public servants to elected officials, from lobbyists to the police authorities, as well as journalists, the only solution is for the government to launch a full-fledged public commission of inquiry which would cover the period from 1988 to today. Only then will the whole truth finally be exposed and tarnished reputations restored."

In point, Mulroney has already fought the Airbus case and won it handsomely. Since he has been made to live through it again, he's not troubled by fighting it again.

Only this time there would be no settlement on the courthouse steps, as in 1997, when the government apologized to Mulroney and his family for calling him a criminal in a letter to Swiss authorities, and acknowledged there had been no case against him in the first place. As for "the settlement," as in the $2.1 million, that's just one more example of shoddy journalism in this case. The settlement consisted of the apology; the $2.1 million was in costs ordered by an arbitrator, the late judge Alan B. Gold, to cover Mulroney's legal and public-relations fees. He never saw a nickel of it. (When Liberal whip Karen Redman accused him of lining his pockets with public money, she was fortunate to have said it in the House, under immunity from a libel suit. Were she ever to repeat it in the foyer, he would sue her down to her socks.)

In rolling the Airbus tape all the way back to Air Canada's acquisition of the A-320s back in 1988, Mulroney knows perfectly well there is no problem in it. He was never involved in the file. And the Air Canada procurement process was transparent and clean. All the airline executives, who would have testified to that in 1997 are still alive, and would be happy to do so again.

No, the story gets interesting in 1995, with the letter to the Swiss, with journalist Stevie Cameron being a confidential informant for the Mounties, with the first exposé on the Fifth Estate.

Here's where the tape stops. Mulroney wants to add new players, "elected officials ... as well as journalists."

Now there's something for everyone in the political village to think about.

Elected officials. That would be Jean Chrétien and his chief of staff, Jean Pelletier, and his senior advise,r Eddie Goldenberg, and his director of communications, Peter Donolo, and the clerk of the Privy Council, Jocelyne Bourgon, and the then-Solicitor- General Herb Gray, and the former justice minister, Allan Rock, and all their officials.

What did they know about the Airbus hoax, and when did they know it. What were their motives, then and later? Was it a diversion from the fact they had almost lost the country in the 1995 referendum? How about Shawinigate, the Auberge Grand Mère loan files, and the naked abuse of power by Chrétien in the case of François Beaudoin?

What a show this would be.

But here's the kicker: "as well as journalists," meaning all the journalists, particularly from the Globe and Mail and the CBC's Fifth Estate, who have been working this story for the last 12 years, not just the reporters but their bosses. Mulroney would put them all in the box, and journalists and editors aren't allowed to protect their sources at commissions of inquiry.

And then there's Karlheinz Schreiber, who is currently in a Toronto jail fighting an extradition order to Germany on charges of tax evasion and fraud. It is clear that he will do, and say, anything, to stay in this country, including dragging Stephen Harper into it in a couple of letters that could have been written by your crazy aunt. He's giving jailhouse interviews as if he were Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King. These are not great moments in investigative journalism.

It's inconvenient for Schreiber that his story keeps changing, that he says one thing under oath in court and another in his sworn deposition. In court, he said he never concluded a business deal with Mulroney while he was in office; in his affidavit he says he did, at Harrington Lake, two days before Mulroney resigned in 1993.

Well, either he did or he didn't. He also said that Fred Doucet, on Mulroney's behalf, asked for funds to be transferred from an Ottawa consulting firm "to Mr. Mulroney's lawyer in Geneva related to the Airbus deal." Again, either he did or he didn't. Mulroney says he never had a lawyer, or for that matter a bank account, in Switzerland.

Accepting a cash retainer, especially from a character like Schreiber, was clearly among the dumbest things Mulroney ever did. But it wasn't illegal, and he paid his taxes on it. For the rest, having suffered the embarrassment of it, he is saying very clearly: Bring it on. This is not a guy you want to wake up.

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