Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff is facing fresh allegations he broke the law by cutting a $90,000 cheque to Sen. Mike Duffy.
But Nigel Wright is fighting back with a statement that insists he was only acting in the best interests of taxpayers and that he did nothing wrong.
A new information to obtain a production order by RCMP Cpl. Greg Horton says Nigel Wright “did, without the consent in writing of the head of the branch of government, pay a reward or confer an advantage or benefit on Mike Duffy.”
Horton also says Wright and Duffy “did commit breach of trust in connection with the duties of their offices,” contrary to a section of the Criminal Code.
The documents also indicate Wright told the Mounties that Harper was unaware of his decision to personally pay back Duffy’s ineligible expense claims.
In a statement issued today by his lawyer, Peter Mantas, Wright denies all wrongdoing.
“My intention was always to secure repayment of funds owed to taxpayers,” the statement reads.
“I acted within the scope of my duties and remain confident that my actions were lawful. I have no further comment at this time.”
Horton also says between Feb. 6 and Mar. 28, Wright “did directly or indirectly corruptly give or offer to a member of Parliament for the benefit of that person, any money, valuable consideration, or office in respect of anything done or omitted, or to be done or omitted by him in his official capacity,” again contrary to the Criminal Code.
The documents also reveal Horton is seeking emails sent or received between Jan. 1 and May 13 for senators David Tkachuk, Marjory LeBreton, Carolyn Stewart Olsen and Duffy.
The document was filed in court today in Ottawa. It’s the first time the RCMP has accused Wright of any criminal acts.
On Tuesday, Harper told the House of Commons that Wright was under investigation by the RCMP, but said he wasn’t aware of the Prime Minister’s Office being under investigation.
The Mounties had declined to confirm or deny that Wright was under investigation.
The court documents also shed some light on what led Wright to cover Duffy’s expenses.
During a July 18 interview, Wright told Horton and another RCMP officer that he first thought there might be a problem with Senate expense claims when he saw a media report on Feb. 5 that Duffy had applied for a P.E.I. health card.
Wright says he called Tkachuk the next day to get his take on the situation. Following that conversation, Wright says he told his staff there may be an issue.
Wright says he called Duffy on Feb. 7. The senator was upset that a Senate committee was referring his expense claims to an external audit by the firm Deloitte. They spoke again on Feb. 11, and Wright says he assured Duffy that he wouldn’t lose his Senate seat if he did not claim P.E.I. as his primary residence. Wright says Duffy told him that he spends most of his time in Ottawa, partly for medical reasons.
“Mr. Wright then told Sen. Duffy that if he primarily lives in Ottawa, then he morally should not be claiming his Ottawa residence as a secondary residence, and was therefore not entitled to the allowance he had been claiming,” Horton wrote.
“Mr. Wright told him he should pay the money back.”
Wright told investigators he believed Duffy would repay the expenses at that time.
Wright says he stepped in when he saw Duffy approach Harper following a Feb. 13 caucus meeting. Duffy was defending his expense claims and Wright says he “took the opposite position.” Wright says Harper listened to both men speak before telling Duffy the public wouldn’t “expect or accept such claims.” Wright says he again left the discussion believing Duffy would repay the expenses.
Wright says Duffy told him on Feb. 19 that he didn’t have the money to pay back the expenses.
Wright says he called Conservative Sen. Irving Gerstein, chair of the Conservative Fund, on Feb. 22 to ask if the fund would repay what he thought was only $32,000 plus interest. Wright says Gerstein agreed to do so.
That was until Tkachuk calculated that Duffy actually owed $90,000. Wright says Gerstein refused to cover that amount, without explaining why.
Wright told the RCMP he was “angered” that Duffy owed so much money.
Wright says he spoke to Janice Payne, Duffy’s lawyer, for the first and only time on Mar. 22, at which point he decided to pay back the money himself.
“Mr. Wright explained that he is financially comfortable, having been successful in the private sector prior to agreeing to work within the PMO,” the court document says.
Wright says he did not file any expense claims while working in the PMO, and estimated he was out of pocket for “tens of thousands of dollars” as a result.
Wright says he told Gerstein and Chris Woodcock, then the PMO’s director of issues management, of his decision to repay Duffy’s expenses. Duffy says he did not tell Harper of his decision.
The Senate recently voted to suspend Duffy and senators Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau over the expense controversy.