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OTTAWA (Reuters) - A Canadian senator stepped down from the Conservative caucus on Thursday after a scandal surrounding his expenses and how he obtained money to repay them.
The government has said that Senator Mike Duffy accepted a personal check for C$90,000 ($88,000) from the chief of staff of Prime Minister Stephen Harper so he could repay housing allowances he should not have received.
Critics said the check made a mockery of the Conservatives' promise of clean government and increased accountability.
Opinion polls taken before the scandal broke showed the party trailing the opposition Liberals, although an election is due only in 2015.
Duffy, a former journalist who Harper named to the unelected upper house of Parliament in 2008, said in a brief statement that his presence as a Conservative member of the Senate had become a "distraction."
"I have decided to step outside of the caucus and sit as an independent Senator pending resolution of these questions," he said in a statement.
"Throughout this entire situation I have sought only to do the right thing. I look forward to all relevant facts being made clear in due course, at which point I am hopeful I will be able to rejoin the Conservative caucus."
Duffy is one of three senators caught up in the expenses scandal, an issue that has become a big embarrassment for Harper. A second senator has already stepped down from the Liberal caucus, while a third was expelled from the Conservative caucus after he was charged with assault.
Reporting by David Ljunggren and Janet Guttsman; Editing by Eric Walsh