He's only just begun to fight

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by L. IAN MacDONALD
National Post, Friday, November 16, 2007

OTTAWA - Full disclosure: I know Brian Mulroney. I served under Brian Mulroney. Brian Mulroney is a friend of mine. And Karlheinz Schreiber, with apologies to Lloyd Bentsen, is no Brian Mulroney.

This is what the Mulroney-Schreiber affair comes down to. Only one of them is telling the truth. And Canadians will have to decide whom to believe.

One of them is sitting in a Toronto jail, fighting extradition to Germany on charges of tax evasion. He keeps changing his story. The other is a former prime minister of Canada, who tells quite another story. It's a classic case of he said, he said.

Schreiber says he concluded a business arrangement with Mulroney at a meeting at Harrington Lake on June 23, 1993, two days before Mulroney left office. Mulroney says he concluded no business deals with Schreiber, or anyone else, before leaving office.

Well, either he did or he didn't. And even if he did, which he says he didn't, it's not clear that Mulroney would have been in violation of the post-employment conflict of interest guidelines established by his own government in 1985.

But it's an inconvenient truth for Schreiber that he has changed his story on this. In sworn testimony at the Eurocopter trial in 2004, he said he didn't hire Mulroney until later in 1993, or even 1994, clearly contradicting his sworn affidavit last week that they concluded an arrangement at Harrington. The Post publishedSchreiber's conflicting statements side by side on Tuesday. It's right there in black and white. The same information was available to The Globe and Mail last week, but it chose not to publish or point out the contradictions in Schreiber's stories. That's very interesting.

The second key allegation in Schreiber's affidavit is that Mulroney associate Fred Doucet asked that funds be transferred from GCI, an Ottawa consulting firm, "to Mr. Mulroney's lawyer in Geneva related to the Airbus deal."

Doucet denies this, and so does Mulroney. Again, either Mulroney had a lawyer in Switzerland or he didn't. Again, only one of them is telling the truth. Mulroney maintains he's never had a lawyer in Switzerland, then or at any time in his life. For that matter, he says he's never had a Swiss bank account in his life.

But Schreiber handed Mulroney a powerful sword of vengeance. In alleging that funds were diverted to him from the Air Canada-Airbus deal, he allowed Mulroney to ask that the entire case be reopened as part of his demand on Monday for a full public inquiry. Mulroney has nothing to fear in fighting the Airbus case over again. He already won it once 10 years ago. There is no reason to think he wouldn't win it again.

But there is a difference. The first Airbus case was settled on the courthouse steps, with an apology from the government to Mulroney and his family, and an acknowledgement that it never had a case against him in the first place. (The $2.1-million wasn't part of "the settlement," as it's erroneously called. It was an award of legal and public relations costs ordered by the arbitrator, Alan B. Gold. Mulroney never got a penny of it.)

This time, if the terms of reference permit, Mulroney will put everyone on the stand. That's very clear from his statement. He would grill "all the people involved, from public servants to elected officials, from lobbyists to the police authorities, as well as journalists. [T]he only solution is for the government to launch a full-fledged public commission of inquiry which would cover the period from 1988 to today."

Elected officials? That means Jean Chretien and all the prime minister's men who ran the Airbus investigation hoax in the first place.

Journalists? That means everyone from The Globe and Mail and CBC's the fifth estate who has worked on this story from the first sensational allegations in 1995 to the present day.

Journalists have no claim of privilege before a royal commission. They cannot hide behind their anonymous sources. Moreover, since the passage of the Accountability Act, the CBC is subject to Access to Information demands. This means Canadians may finally discover how much the CBC has spent on this story over the last 12 years.

That's where this is going. Accepting a cash retainer from Schreiber was the dumbest thing Mulroney ever did in his life. But it wasn't illegal. Cash is legal tender. And he paid his taxes on it, and may even have overpaid if he didn't claim travel and other expenses incurred on Schreiber's behalf. But once you get past Mulroney's embarrassment, there is the anger of someone whose silence has always been tactical, and who is only now beginning to fight.

 
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