November 20, 2013 / 7:44 PM / in 4 years

Actions of top aide to Canada PM were corrupt, police suspect

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A former top aide to Prime Minister Stephen Harper is being investigated for acting corruptly when he cut a personal check to help a disgraced senator repay his expenses, according to police documents released on Wednesday.

Nigel Wright, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's incoming chief of staff, arrives to testify before the Commons ethics committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa November 2, 2010. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

The documents, which underpin a request for more information, quote a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) investigator as saying he suspects Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, “did directly or indirectly corruptly” give money to Senator Mike Duffy, then a member of the governing Conservative Party.

The statement, which has not been proven in court, will increase pressure on Harper over what has become one of the biggest scandals to hit the Conservatives since they came to power in early 2006.

The party’s popularity has slipped since news emerged in May that Wright had given Duffy a check for C$90,000 ($86,540) to cover expenses he had inappropriately claimed. The Conservatives now trail the opposition Liberals in public opinion polls.

Canadian law forbids people from offering legislators money that is linked to their official duties.

Harper insists he did not know about the payment and would have vetoed it had he known what Wright, at the time an enormously influential and powerful official, was doing.

“I have seen no evidence that the prime minister was involved in having Senator Duffy’s legal bills paid,” the police investigator said.

Wright, who could face a jail term of up to 14 years if charged and convicted, has repeatedly denied he did anything wrong. “I acted within the scope of my duties and remain confident that my actions were lawful,” he said in a statement.

The affair has nevertheless become a big embarrassment for Harper, who came to power promising to clean up government. The next federal election is not due until October 2015.

Under pressure from Harper’s office, the Senate this month voted to suspend Duffy and two other Conservative senators over their expense claims.

All three said they were following Senate rules and that their suspensions were carried out without due process. The three are also all under criminal investigation by the police, but no charges have been laid.

“The PM knows, in broad terms only, that I personally assisted Duffy when I was getting him to agree to repay the expenses,” Wright said in an email. He gave no details.

Harper’s office appeared to dismiss that idea.

“The document shows that the RCMP do NOT believe that the prime minister had any knowledge of, or involvement in, the scheme between Wright and Duffy,” a spokesman for Harper said in an email.

($1=$1.04 Canadian)

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Galloway

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