The federal government says it is handing over to police a recently discovered cache of emails belonging to Benjamin Perrin, former counsel for the Prime Minister’s Office and a central figure in the Senate spending scandal.
The Privy Council Office released a letter to the RCMP on Sunday saying it had been mistaken when it originally told investigators that Perrin’s emails were deleted when he left the job in March, in keeping with standard procedure.
In fact, Perrin’s emails were already being preserved in connection with an unrelated matter, says the letter, which is signed by Isabelle Mondou, assistant secretary to the cabinet in the office of the counsel to the Clerk of the Privy Council.
“Upon Mr. Perrin’s departure at the end of his employment in late March 2013, the PMO was provided a notice that his emails had been deleted from the computer server,” Mondou writes.
“On Nov. 29, 2013, we found that Mr. Perrin’s emails had in fact been retained due to a litigation hold in an unrelated matter.”
Perrin’s name appears in RCMP documents released in November containing explosive allegations about a scheme to repay Sen. Mike Duffy’s disallowed housing expenses and whitewash a Senate report into the controversy.
The documents allege senior PMO staffers — including Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff and the man who paid Duffy’s $90,000 bill — worked with top Tory senators to change the report after unsuccessfully trying to shape an independent audit.
In May, Perrin denied that he was ever consulted about, or participated in, Wright’s decision to cover Duffy’s expenses, and said he never communicated with Harper about it.
The Privy Council Office, meanwhile, says it will “immediately turn over these email records” and that it has apologized to both the RCMP and the Prime Minister’s Office.
“We regret that we previously failed, even if inadvertently, to accurately inform you and the PMO about the availability of Mr. Perrin’s emails,” Mondou writes. “We apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused.”
Harper has steadfastly maintained that he was kept in the dark about the scheme until learning May 15 that Wright had repaid Duffy’s expenses, and has been laying the blame squarely at their feet. But a compelling series of emails between various PMO operatives, including Perrin, suggest details of the plan were more widely known that Harper has suggested.
The documents spell out allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust against Wright and Duffy. The allegations have not been proven in court, and no one has yet been charged.
Wright resigned from the PMO in May, shortly after the details of the payment emerged. But other senior staff in the PMO, including director of issues management Chris Woodcock and manager of parliamentary affairs Patrick Rogers, were also active in the discussions about how to get Duffy to repay his expenses, the documents show.
Both are still with the government: Woodcock works for Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, Rogers for Heritage Minister Shelly Glover.
The deal originally involved the party reimbursing Duffy for repaying his expenses, while curtailing an audit into his claims. Conservative Fund chairman Irving Gerstein was also aware of the talks, and he solicited information from a contact at auditing firm Deloitte about the status of their report.