Who's running this country: Harper or Schreiber?

German businessman is attempting to blackmail PM into letting him stay

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The Gazette, Monday, November 19, 2007

In another of his famous jailhouse interviews, Karlheinz Schreiber said he won't testify before the public inquiry he has long demanded if he's extradited to Germany to face charges of tax evasion, bribery and fraud.

"Not one f---ing word would I say, not one word" he told the Globe and Mail last Thursday, after the Ontario Court of Appeal threw out his case, giving him two weeks to seek a review by the Supreme Court, which has already ordered his extradition.

"Why would I care about the country anymore?" he continued. "Why would I care any longer?"

So now, having made a mockery of our justice system by successfully dragging out an extradition case for eight years, he is making a mockery of the government itself.

The eight-year court case is clearly an abuse of process, which brings the courts and all appearing before them in this case into disrepute. But now the government itself is being held up as a laughingstock. Actually, two governments: Canada, which is trying to get rid of this guy, and Germany, which wants him back.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Schreiber is attempting to blackmail the prime minister into allowing him to remain in the country, which has clearly been his primary goal in this entire affair. This just underlines the point that Schreiber will say, and do, anything to avoid being deported. He will say anything about Brian Mulroney. He will say anything about Stephen Harper. He will say anything to the media.

Harper has a choice - he can cave in to Schreiber's blackmail, and the howls of the opposition parties, or he can stand aside and allow justice finally to take its course. If the justice minister refuses to intervene, allowing the judicial branch to complete its work without political interference, Schreiber will be on a plane to Germany by the end of next week.

The Germans have given every assurance that they will make Schreiber available for interviews by the special third party, David Johnston, and by the subsequent royal commission into the Mulroney-Schreiber affair. The word of an important Canadian ally and G8 partner ought to be good enough for Canada. But even if they send him back to Canada, Schreiber says, he won't talk.

On the other hand, having kept Schreiber here this long, what is to be lost by keeping him here a while longer to testify before Johnston and the full inquiry?

Well, it's a question of who's running this country, Harper or Schreiber.

Should Harper capitulate to the extraordinary pressure he'll come under in the House and the media in the coming days, that would be a bad leadership moment for him. He has built his personal brand on integrity and conviction. He's not for turning, as Margaret Thatcher used to say. But maybe he can be rolled.

There's already a question of whether Harper blinked in calling for an investigation of Schreiber's charges against Brian Mulroney in a sworn affidavit that contradicts his previous sworn testimony in court. Was Schreiber lying the first time when he said he didn't hire Mulroney until late 1993 or 1994, or the second time, when he said they made a deal at Harrington on June 23, 1993, two days before Mulroney left office? Or is Mulroney lying when he says he didn't make any deal with Schreiber, or anyone else, before leaving office? Regardless, Mulroney has to come forward at some point and explain why he accepted a cash arrangement with Schreiber, and what he did to earn the money.

Harper's action, on the same day details of the affidavit were published, was decisive and clearly meant to defend the integrity of his office. But was it necessary, given that the Ontario court would rule only six days later? And what are the consequences, inside the Conservative Party, of his decision to impose a government-wide ban on contact with Mulroney until the Schreiber matter has been resolved? Harper is usually very good at thinking his way down the field. But he might not have had time to think this one through.

Meanwhile, in yet another jailhouse interview with the National Post last Thursday, Schreiber rambled on about "the craziness of the story" and "why everyone is so anxious to get me out of the country."

But the lead is buried in the 22nd paragraph: "While Mr. Schreiber will save his new revelations for the inquiry, when asked outright if he knows of any wrongdoing by Mr. Mulroney, he answered: 'I don't know, the inquiry has to find out.' "

One day the Schreiber jailhouse interviews might become a bestseller. The only question is, fiction or non-fiction?

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