Relentless secrecy on payments

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

If it had just been that former prime minister Brian Mulroney took hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash payments in hotel rooms and failed to report the income for six years, it would be quite a story.

But what makes this saga truly stunning and of vital importance is the fact that the payments were made by the notorious lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber, wanted in Germany on charges of corruption, who was paid $20 million by European consortium Airbus to lobby the Mulroney government to buy its jets.

These facts inevitably raise the question of whether the cash payments in hotel rooms are in any way linked to the $1.8 billion airplane deal Schreiber was able to win from Air Canada, then a crown corporation, in 1988.

Mulroney denies any connection at all to Airbus (and he won a $2.1 million settlement and an apology from the Canadian government after it launched an investigation in 1995 implicating him in alleged kickbacks).

Mulroney also insists that he did nothing wrong in accepting cash payments from Schreiber after leaving office in 1993, although he says entering into a business deal with a scoundrel like Schreiber was the "biggest mistake" of his life.

This may be true, but it's beside the point. The issue isn't how much of a snake Schreiber is, but what Mulroney was up to in his dealings with him.

Mulroney's explanation -- that he was providing international consulting services for Schreiber's projects -- has been vague, undocumented and mostly involves dead people who can't corroborate his story. What compounds the problem is Mulroney's relentless secrecy about the cash payments, totaling at least $225,000.

Mulroney not only kept the payments well hidden, squirrelling them away in a safe, but for years attacked anyone who questioned the nature of his relationship with Schreiber.

When the federal government launched its investigation in 1995, Mulroney countered with a lawsuit -- and then concealed from government investigators that he had in fact received some payments from Schreiber.

At the centre of this secrecy is the use of cash, notoriously favoured by those wanting to leave no paper trail.

Mulroney said in his cross-examination last week that he was a little taken aback when Schreiber first presented him with an envelope full of cash, which he found "unusual."

He maintained he could have avoided all his problems if he'd only insisted Schreiber pay him by cheque. The suggestion was that it was the conniving Schreiber with his cash payments who had done Mulroney in.

But commission counsel Richard Wolson caught the former PM off-guard for a moment when he noted that nothing prevented Mulroney from creating his own paper trail -- by depositing the cash in a bank account, reporting it in his files or to his accountants (not to mention to Canadian tax authorities).

The facts of this story -- the ones Mulroney himself has confirmed -- seem so damning on face value that what's needed is a plausible alternative explanation.

But instead Mulroney has offered up years of secrecy and obfuscation. It's hard to avoid wondering just what it is our former prime minister is so keen to hide.

So what's at stake is not the tired question pondered by those caught up in the Great Man theory of history: will Mulroney's "legacy" be tarnished? Rather, something much more important is at stake: do we live in a democracy where those who hold power will truly be held to account?

Linda McQuaig is author of It's the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil and the Fight for the Planet.

Related Items

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.