Ex-ally of Canada PM set for high-profile bribery trial

Mon Apr 6, 2015 2:16pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A former ally of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper goes on trial for fraud and bribery on Tuesday in a case that could damage the governing Conservatives' chances of winning October's general election.

Mike Duffy, a former television reporter who became a popular fund-raiser for the Conservatives, faces 31 criminal charges related to activities after Harper appointed him to the Senate, the upper chamber of Parliament.

The trial could present an acute challenge for the right-leaning Conservatives, who came to power in early 2006 promising more government accountability.

The party that talked about cleaning up politics looked less than transparent when it emerged in May 2013 that Harper chief of staff Nigel Wright had given Duffy a C$90,000 ($72,000) check to cover living expenses the senator had claimed improperly.

Wright quickly quit. Harper insisted he knew nothing about the check, even though police uncovered an email from Wright saying Harper had discussed the Duffy case with him.

Harper later said he had, in fact, fired Wright. Opposition members of Parliament questioned how a man known for imposing tight control over government knew nothing about the scandal.

A string of senior Harper officials will appear during the trial and opposition parties are watching closely.

"What was the prime minister thinking to allow this culture of corruption and breach of trust to happen right around him?" legislator Charlie Angus of the New Democrats said last week.   Continued...

Now suspended senator Duffy arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in this file photo from October 22, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/Files