Canada PM knew his ally would be pressed to make false confession: lawyer

Tue Apr 7, 2015 5:53pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren and Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper knew his aides planned to force a former political ally to falsely admit to wrongdoing as part of an effort to cover up a scandal, a lawyer for the defendant said on Tuesday.

The remarks are significant since they suggest that Harper knew more than he has conceded about the case of Senator Mike Duffy, who went on trial on Tuesday on 31 charges of fraud and bribery.

The trial could hurt the chances of Harper and his right-of-center Conservatives winning a rare fourth consecutive election this October.

Harper appointed Duffy to the Senate, Parliament's upper chamber, in late 2008. Formerly a well-known journalist, he soon became a valuable fund-raiser for the party.

Prosecutors say Duffy improperly claimed more than C$80,000 ($64,000) in travel and living expenses after becoming a senator.

When news of this broke in the media in December 2012, Duffy quickly became an embarrassment to Harper, who came to power in 2006 promising to clean up government.

Duffy's lawyer, Donald Bayne, said his client had been following Senate rules and was innocent, but under immense pressure from Harper's then chief of staff, Nigel Wright, and others, agreed in February 2013 to admit publicly he had made a mistake and would repay the money.

Bayne, citing a statement Wright made to police, said the chief of staff had talked to Harper to tell him that: "We are basically forcing, Mr Prime Minister, someone to repay money that they probably didn't owe."   Continued...

Suspended Senator Mike Duffy (L) arrives at the Ontario Court of Justice, in Ottawa, April 7, 2015. REUTERS/Blair Gable