Guergis helped husband create `aura of connectedness': Conservative lawyer

OTTAWA - Information that former cabinet minister Helena Guergis was helping her husband peddle influence with the government was what clinched her ouster from the Conservative fold, the party's lawyer revealed Wednesday.

OTTAWA - Information that former cabinet minister Helena Guergis was helping her husband peddle influence with the government was what clinched her ouster from the Conservative fold, the party's lawyer revealed Wednesday.

Arthur Hamilton also told a Commons committee that a Toronto private eye was only one of a number of sources that helped put together the unflattering picture that forced Prime Minister Stephen Harper's hand on April. 9.

Guergis herself turned out to be one of the sources of information, the lawyer added.

MPs on the government operations committee are studying allegations that her husband, former Tory MP Rahim Jaffer, had been illegally lobbying government officials and possibly influence peddling.

"Mr. Jaffer was creating the illusion that he was ultra-connected with the Conservative government and that he could make funds available and effectively open doors to potential investors," said Hamilton, a lawyer with Toronto firm Cassels Brock & Blackwell.

"Ms. Guergis assisted and amplified this aura of connectedness that Mr. Jaffer was presenting."

The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner confirmed Wednesday that she would be investigating whether Guergis broke rules when she wrote a letter to a municipal politician on behalf of a local businessman. Jaffer had been talking about a business deal with the same businessman.

Hamilton's testimony contrasted that of private investigator Derrick Snowdy, the party's central source, who told the committee last month that he knew of no criminal evidence that existed against her.

Hamilton also took pains to refute Guergis' claim that she has never been told the exact nature of the allegations that lead to her ouster from caucus.

He revealed that a well-known Toronto communications consultant, Jaime Watt, contacted him on her behalf on the same day Harper held a news conference. Hamilton said he laid out the allegations against Guergis to Watt as well.

"Any suggestion that Ms. Guergis does not know the details of the allegations which were made against her is not accurate," Hamilton said. He went on to describe her "defensive tone" as he detailed the allegations to her in a phone call.

"She kept saying, 'That's not true, that's ridiculous, that's not true, after every point that I would lay out,"' Hamilton said.

The lawyer also maintained that the party had never made an assessment that the allegations against Guergis were true or untrue. He said it was Guergis herself who decided to withdraw from cabinet and caucus with the awareness that she needed to spend time defending herself in the face of an unfolding story.

Guergis and Jaffer were supposed to appear at the committee on Wednesday, but each bowed out citing different reasons. They have both denied all allegations of impropriety against them.

Hamilton brought considerably more light to the circumstances that led to Guergis leaving the Conservative caucus.

Once again, the name of controversial Toronto businessman Nazim Gillani was raised. Gillani, who is facing fraud charges in Ontario, had been working with Jaffer on a number of business projects involving renewable energy projects.

The Conservative Party's alarm bells went off when Snowdy detailed the relationship between Jaffer and Gillani.

"There is a significant attempt by Mr. Gillani and Mr. Jaffer to defraud potential investors as they hold themselves out as venture capitalists," said Hamilton.

Guergis was brought into the mix through allegations Jaffer was using her to further his interests, he said, pointing to her presence at least two dinners with business associates.

Howard Rubel, Guergis' lawyer, told The Canadian Press late Wednesday that his client "is still unaware, as the committee must also be, as to what the serious allegations against her are.

"All we have learned today is that the concern apparently involves going out to dinner with her husband on one or two occasions, which proved that Mr. Jaffer was indeed married to Ms. Guergis. This was hardly a state secret."

Gillani has vigorously refuted all suggestions of impropriety in his business dealings, saying his firm International Strategic Investments is engaged in legitimate and common activities.

"For the record, contrary to what Mr. Hamilton said today, at no time was there any plan by Nazim Gillani to defraud investors," said his spokesman, Brian Kilgore.