TORONTO – The latest chapter in the long, often confusing saga of Karlheinz Schreiber came to an abrupt end Sunday as the controversial German-Canadian businessman was whisked away to Germany after an Ontario judge denied his latest – and last – bid to avoid extradition.
Schreiber’s lawyer, Edward Greenspan, summoned a Superior Court judge to an extraordinary hearing on a summer long weekend in Toronto in hopes of winning an injunction for his client that would stave off a one-way trip to Europe that’s been a long time coming.
His efforts, however, were for naught.
“On August 2, 2009, Mr. Schreiber was surrendered to Germany in accordance with the valid surrender order issued against him on October 31, 2004, by former Minister of Justice, Irwin Cotler,” Justice Minister Rob Nicholson confirmed in a statement.
“Over a 10-year period, Mr. Schreiber was given every reasonable opportunity to challenge his extradition. His surrender to Germany was in full accord with the law and consistent with the spirit and purpose of extradition.”
Superior Court Justice Barbara Ann Conway was not convinced that Schreiber’s latest effort wasn’t another in a long series of “creative instalments” to block the federal government’s extradition effort.
“Mr. Schreiber has travelled a long road in fighting his extradition to Germany,” Conway said in her ruling.
“He is now at the end of that road.”
Greenspan, a veteran criminal defence lawyer who’s rarely one to sound a note of defeat, seemed resigned to the likelihood his client – notorious for having avoided the federal government’s extradition efforts for nearly a decade – was indeed destined to leave.
“I don’t think in justice you’re supposed to weigh how many times you win versus how many times you lose,” he said after the hearing as he contemplated the number of court proceedings Schreiber has attended during his 10 years in Canada.
“Each case has to be decided on its own merits. The judge decided not to give us an extension, and that ends it.”
Conway “made a correct conclusion” in denying Schreiber’s bid for an injunction that would have further delayed his extradition, said Crown lawyer Richard Kramer.
As a result of the Sunday ruling, Schreiber complied with an order to surrender himself at a Toronto detention centre; Greenspan predicted the extradition process would begin “within minutes” of his arrival.
“I expect they’re going to act relatively quickly.”
He was correct: Justice Department officials confirmed that Schreiber’s plane left Toronto within hours of his reporting to the Toronto West Detention Centre.
An Germain official said in Munich that Schreiber would arrive there Monday morning and would be taken to Augsburg, where he will be charged with bribery and tax evasion.
The extradition comes hard on the heels of public hearings on Schreiber’s controversial financial dealings with former prime minister Brian Mulroney, which formally ended on Friday, Kramer said. At that point, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson set the extradition wheels in motion, he added.
“Immediately following that, the minister issued his reasons requiring Mr. Schreiber to step into custody.”
When Schreiber arrived at the detention centre a short drive from the busy Toronto airport in the back of a taxicab, he was greeted by a throng of reporters, with whom he was only too willing to briefly hold court.
Schreiber has long been known for his shrewd dealings with the media and a canny ability to generate headlines when it best suits him. Over the years he has sporadically released numerous documents from his vast archive of papers and diaries, offering tantalizing hints and unproven suggestions of political hanky-panky.
He has also proven adept at staving off attempts to remove him from Canada, peppering the courts with legal notices that have prevented his return to Germany – at least until now.
“The whole approach is again to get my mouth shut and get me out of the country,” he said.
Schreiber also said Nicholson had received a fax from the German authorities urging the extradition to proceed now that the inquiry was complete.
By complying with the request, the federal Conservative government is essentially undermining the re-election efforts of their own conservative counterparts in Germany, who are heading into a campaign next month, he added.
In a letter sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper that was read during Sunday’s hearing, Schreiber was quoted as saying he asked for the hearing after two officials from the federal Justice Department visited him on Friday night.
He said they served him with a response to a letter from his lawyer, triggering the process requiring him to surrender himself into custody by Sunday evening.
The 75-year-old Schreiber has been fighting an extradition order to Germany, where he is wanted on charges of tax evasion, bribery and fraud.
When public hearings on his dealings with former prime minister Brian Mulroney drew to a close just days ago, Schreiber insisted he wasn’t packing his bags for Germany just yet.
“We have all kinds of legal issues still with the minister open,” he said at the time.
Justice Jeffrey Oliphant, who is heading the inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber affair, has until Dec. 31 to deliver his report.
The main focus of Oliphant’s work has been the so-called Bear Head project in which the German firm Thyssen AG was to set up a plant in Canada to build and export light-armoured vehicles.
Mulroney has admitted taking $225,000 in cash from Schreiber but says he broke no laws or ethical guidelines. He says he merely tried to line up support from political leaders in Russia, China and France for a proposed UN purchase of the vehicles for peacekeeping work.
Schreiber says the payments totalled $300,000, not the $225,000 Mulroney later declared for tax purposes.
He also maintains the former prime minister was supposed to lobby Canadian officials, not foreign leaders.
The affair has raised questions about whether current ethics rules – especially those governing politicians once they leave office – should be strengthened to head off similar controversies in future.
Greenspan said while it’s impossible to say how long Schreiber’s trial in Germany might take, or what the outcome might be, Sunday’s events don’t necessarily mean he won’t return to Canada someday.
“People can be transferred from one country to another to serve their sentence,” Greenspan said, adding pointedly that he wasn’t trying to suggest Schreiber would be convicted.
“There’s no reason why in the future he can’t or won’t return to Canada.”
At the same time, it’s equally possible Schreiber could end up living out the rest of his life in a German prison, he acknowledged.