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Jaffer more a priority than pariah within government

OTTAWA - While the Conservative government treats Rahim Jaffer publicly as a pariah, messages and calls between senior officials and the former MP over the past year show he was handled inside as a friend and even a "priority."

OTTAWA - While the Conservative government treats Rahim Jaffer publicly as a pariah, messages and calls between senior officials and the former MP over the past year show he was handled inside as a friend and even a "priority."

More than 60 pages of government documents obtained by The Canadian Press Wednesday paint a picture of a busy, cheerful businessman reaching out to people he knew within government.

In some cases he used an email address assigned to the office of his wife - Helena Guergis, the former minister of state for the status of women - to contact officials ranging from assistant deputy ministers to senior staff in ministerial offices.

Last week, he told a Commons committee he only ever used the blackberry associated with the address to keep track of her schedule.

"It's Rahim here, hope things are going well at Industry Canada. I'm sure you guys are not getting beat up as bad as I've been," Jaffer says to a staff member in the office of minister Tony Clement, prefacing a lengthy question about the federal budget.

The message was sent a little over a month ago, in the aftermath of Jaffer's controversial careless driving conviction.

The staff member emails him back within minutes: "Hey! Let me know a a good time to call. Cheers." Jaffer ultimately never got the information he was seeking, according to Clement's office.

At least six ministerial offices were contacted by Jaffer over the past year, and that includes previously unknown communications with Public Works and the office of Diane Ablonczy, minister of state for seniors. The documents were tabled with the Commons government operations committee, and with the lobbying commissioner and some with the ethics commissioner.

In his emails, Jaffer was often describing renewable projects he was working on with his partner Patrick Glemaud, and the responses to his queries were swift and often personal.

In one message exchange with Doug Maley, an assistant deputy minister at Western Economic Diversification Canada, the two exchange pleasantries about Jaffer's recent graduate degree, a golf date, and a mercury capture project in Alberta.

"Can you have someone review this on a priority basis as I need to get back to Rahim this Friday afternoon on whether this may be of interest to WD," Maley writes to another bureaucrat.

A lengthy email trail among officials at Public Works shows they scrambled last fall - at the request of Minister Christian Paradis' office - to set up a meeting with "former Member of Parliament" Jaffer's company on a proposal to install solar panels on the roofs of federal buildings.

"This request comes from minister's office," says one email, rated "high" in importance.

"Sorry to be a pest . . . but MO (minister's office) is asking when?" says another.

At one point, Paradis' director of parliamentary affairs laments: "The sector has had this for weeks. What's the hold up?"

Another Conservative staffer, from the Calgary office of Environment Minister Jim Prentice, tells a fellow Conservative that "we should talk to this Patrick Glemaud and see if we can set up a tech briefing when he is in Calgary." That note followed a meeting on Parliament Hill and an email exchange with Jaffer.

There is no evidence that any project associated with Jaffer and Glemaud received any federal funding.

Jaffer and Glemaud have maintained they never lobbied any government official, but were simply seeking information about various renewable energy projects. The Lobbying Act exempts simple queries about programs and their terms and conditions.

That critical distinction came up during the committee testimony from a business associate of Jaffer's, Nazim Gillani.

Gillani is a key figure in the wide range of allegations against Jaffer and Guergis. In some cases, Gillani tried to clear the air around Jaffer and Guergis, but in others he contradicted testimony Jaffer provided to the committee last week.

The key contradiction was around the business arrangement Jaffer had with Gillani. The two had been discussing work on a waste management project, and Jaffer's company had approached the federal government about eligibility under the new Green Infrastructure Fund.

Jaffer told the committee last week that his company could find no "synergy" with that of Gillani, and their relationship did not go further than exploratory talks.

But Gillani produced a contract at the committee, apparently signed by both he and Glemaud, in which there was an agreement that Jaffer and Glemaud would help him pursue federal funding. Payment would depend on whether they got anywhere in the future. No money was ever exchanged.

Gillani also said the relationship extended well into 2010, with the men discussing a business trip to China.

But Gillani said he never believed Jaffer was lobbying - the main accusation facing the former MP. Rather, he said he needed an intermediary like Jaffer to help him sort out the maze of government information.

"If I thought that they were lobbying government, I would tell you so," Gillani said. "My opinion is I don't think they did anything wrong."

Glemaud and Jaffer did not respond to a request for comment.

Gillani also went through other, darker allegations swirling around Jaffer and Guergis.

He said it was an "absolute lie" that he had ever said to anyone the couple had offshore accounts in Belize and Panama, as suggested by a private investigator looking into Gillani's affairs.

He said it was false that he had compromising photos of Jaffer and Guergis, and said he had never seen either of them around cocaine, another allegation that has floated.

The private investigator, Derrick Snowdy, had gone to the Conservatives with allegations from what he said he learned through Gillani. Prime Minister Stephen Harper immediately removed Guergis from the Conservative caucus, and referred the matter to the RCMP and ethics commissioner.

In an email to The Canadian Press Wednesday, he suggested Gillani was not being truthful. He pointed to the current criminal fraud charges Gillani is facing in an Ontario court.

"Mr. Gillani also forgets that there were a dozen or so people at the meeting where he offered offshore accounts for sale," said Snowdy. "He is too focused on myself to spin a proper lie."

Gillani told MPs that the stories about him, his business and his relationship to Jaffer and Guergis have hurt his business and personal life.

"The effect of these allegations on my business has been devastating," he said. "Since April 8, four contracts that I have been working on for the past several years have fallen through."

New Democrat MP Pat Martin said the committee will push to recall Jaffer because it's now clear he was involved in "illegal lobbying" and perhaps even influence peddling.

"We feel we were lied to at the last committee, and it puts us in a foul mood," Martin told Gillani at the committee.

Some committee members have murmured about recalling Jaffer to respond to discrepancies in his testimony and documents and other information that has come to their attention this week.

 
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