Brian Mulroney says sorry for accepting cash

Thu Dec 13, 2007 11:07am EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney apologized publicly on Thursday for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from a German arms dealer, but he bluntly rejected suggestions he had taken kickbacks.

Mulroney, a mentor to current Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, had for years declined to answer why exactly he took the money from Karlheinz Schreiber after leaving office in 1993. Schreiber says he handed over a total of C$300,000 ($295,000), while Mulroney said he received C$225,000.

The affair is one of the great mysteries of Canadian politics and efforts to uncover what happened have revealed allegations of skullduggery and influence-peddling that involve senior officials and politicians.

Schreiber, awaiting extradition to Germany to face charges of fraud, bribery and tax evasion, says he paid Mulroney to help German firm Thyssen AG build a plant in Canada to assemble light-armored vehicles.

Mulroney told legislators on Thursday that the money was in fact a retainer to promote use of the vehicles abroad in peacekeeping operations.

He said that while the deal had been legal, and while he had accepted no money while in office, he recognized he had made a serious error in judgment by agreeing to take cash.

"I apologize and I accept full responsibility for it," he told a parliamentary committee, saying he should instead have insisted on a check.

The committee is looking into the so-called Airbus affair -- a 1990s investigation into suspected kickbacks connected to Air Canada's purchase of Airbus airliners in 1988, while Mulroney was prime minister.   Continued...