Canada PM unaware of payment made to quiet ethics scandal: ex-aide

Wed Aug 12, 2015 5:19pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not know that in order to quiet an ethics scandal his former chief of staff had secretly repaid expenses claimed by the senator at the heart of the affair, the ex-aide testified on Wednesday.

The trial of Conservative Senator Mike Duffy, who is accused of receiving a bribe and abusing expense claims, comes as Harper campaigns ahead of Canada's Oct. 19 election. Opposition parties say the affair shows voters should end the Conservatives' near 10-year grip on power.

Nigel Wright, Harper's former chief of staff, told an Ottawa courtroom that he decided in early 2013 that the only way to kill a raging scandal about Duffy's expense claims was to secretly give the senator his own personal check for C$90,000 ($69,400) so Duffy could repay the money.

There was concern by Conservatives at the time that the Duffy case was becoming a major embarrassment for the party, which took power in 2006 promising to clean up federal politics.

Asked by prosecutors whether he had told Harper about the check given to Duffy, Wright replied simply: "No."

His testimony appeared to support Harper's longstanding insistence that he knew nothing about Wright helping Duffy repay his expenses.

"Mr. Wright was working with Mr. Duffy to make sure he did repay them, and that's what we were told was going to happen," Harper said in response to reporters' questions in Vancouver.

"When I found out that is not what happened, that in fact they had been repaid by somebody else, we made that information public and I took the appropriate action."   Continued...

Nigel Wright, former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, leaves the Ontario Court of Justice in Ottawa August 12, 2015.  REUTERS/Blair Gable