Canada scandal deepens as prime minister accused of cover-up

Mon Oct 28, 2013 8:29pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A Canadian legislator at the heart of a spending scandal on Monday accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of being involved in a cover-up deal, deepening a crisis that has engulfed the Conservative government.

Senator Mike Duffy made his allegations just days before a Calgary convention of the ruling Conservatives, who have lost support in the polls since the scandal broke in May and are now trailing the opposition Liberals.

The crisis is the worst to hit the right-leaning government since Harper came to power in early 2006 on a promise to boost accountability. Harper exercises strict control over the Conservatives - also known as the Tories - and such broad signs of division and dissent inside the party are unprecedented.

Duffy made his allegations in the Senate chamber, where comments are subject to Parliamentary privilege and make him immune from prosecution.

Duffy and two other senators - all appointed by Harper - face suspension without pay for allegedly charging too much in expenses. Duffy denies he did anything wrong but he said agreed in February to repay C$90,000 ($86,000) in expenses after Harper told him to do so on the grounds the affair was becoming a political embarrassment to the party's core supporters.

Duffy said he had been coached by the prime minister's office to say he had taken out a loan to pay back the C$90,000. In fact, Harper's chief of staff, Nigel Wright, wrote him a check to cover the amount.

Referring to the aftermath of the February meeting with Harper, Duffy said: "So I'm back home ... after the Prime Minister's decided we're going to do this nefarious scheme."

The government has said Wright acted alone, and Harper was not aware of the C$90,000 payment. Wright resigned in May after news broke about the check, a payment that caused anger among Conservative legislators and supporters.   Continued...

Senator Mike Duffy arrives at the Senate on Parliament Hill in Ottawa October 28, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Wattie