OTTAWA — The judge presiding over an inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber affair expressed frustration Friday with federal politicians over their reluctance to allow him to consider evidence delivered at Commons committee hearings more than a year ago.
Justice Jeffrey Oliphant was hearing evidence from German-Canadian businessman Karlheinz Schreiber on his dealings with former prime minister Brian Mulroney.
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But Oliphant interrupted cross-examination by Mulroney’s lawyer to remind participants they cannot use testimony from the months-long hearings conducted by the Commons ethics committee in 2007-08.
The commissioner, appointed to Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench in 1985 by Mulroney himself, told Schreiber that Parliament refused to relinquish its privilege over the contentious testimony delivered at the hearings.
“Because of that claim for privilege, counsel here ... are forbidden from using that evidence in terms of examining or cross-examining you,” Oliphant said after Schreiber had been repeatedly told not to refer to the highly publicized hearings on Parliament Hill.
“I want to be very frank,” Oliphant added. “I thought it was rather interesting that sworn evidence from a proceeding on a certain occasion was not capable of being used in terms of cross-examination at a later proceeding.”
The commissioner said he instructed his lawyers to seek a waiver of the privilege, but it was denied.
“I didn’t want to challenge that because it would have got us into the Federal Court and we’d be here forever and a day waiting to get it resolved,” he said.
“So we’re in a situation where, as much as my lawyers (and others) would like to use that evidence, we can’t do it.”
Replied Schreiber: “I am at least frustrated as you are with this.”
Mulroney and Schreiber gave vastly different versions of events to the parliamentary committee.
Mulroney says he accepted $225,000 from Schreiber after stepping down as prime minister in 1993 to promote the Thyssen armoured vehicle project. He says he tried to line up support among foreign political leaders whose countries might buy the vehicles.
Schreiber says the deal was struck before Mulroney left office although the cash didn’t change hands until later. He also claims the payments totalled $300,000 and that Mulroney was supposed to lobby the Canadian government, not foreign leaders.
The inquiry is expected to cost more than $14 million. Oliphant’s deadline for a final report is Dec. 31, some 25 months after Harper first promised the investigation.
Schreiber — who is expected to be recalled to the witness stand next month — is facing extradition to Germany, where he’s been charged with fraud, bribery and tax evasion.