So what was the money for?
That is the question to which we still have no conclusive answer, despite countless millions of dollars spent on RCMP investigations, legal proceedings, an out-of-court libel settlement and, most recently, Justice Jeffrey Oliphant’s tightly circumscribed (No Airbus please, we’re Canadian) but nonetheless reputation-damning-to-hell $16-million public inquiry.
Thanks to that inquiry, we now know the $300,000 (or $225,000, depending on which liar you choose to believe) in cash-stuffed envelopes convicted German tax evader Karlheinz Schreiber secretly handed over to former tax avoider and Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney at meetings in Montreal airport hotels and New York coffee shops came from Airbus Industrie.
We know Airbus, the gigantic European aircraft manufacturer, paid Schreiber $25 million to peddle — by whatever means necessary — its planes to Air Canada at a time when Brian Mulroney was the prime minister.
Thanks to Schreiber’s friendships with two Nova Scotians — Elmer MacKay, a Mulroney cabinet minister who generously relinquished his seat so Mulroney could get elected after he won the Tory party leadership in 1983, and Fred Doucet, Mulroney’s college-days confidant turned political fixer turned chief of staff turned lobbyist for, among others, Schreiber — we now know the German-born bribe master had what Oliphant described as “almost unlimited access to Mr. Mulroney while he was prime minister.”
We know Doucet-the-lobbyist wrote several letters to Schreiber-the-bribe-master seeking the latest on the cash Schreiber was shelling out in Airbus “commissions.” We now know one of those letters was written the same day Brian Mulroney accepted his first cash payment drawn from Schreiber’s Airbus Industrie grease money account.
And we know Doucet arranged the clandestine rendezvous where the envelopes began crossing palms.
Given all of that, is it really fair to say, as Justice Oliphant does, that “there is no evidence to demonstrate that Mr. Mulroney had any knowledge as to the source of the funds paid to him by Mr. Schreiber?” Adds the judge: “The only way to link Mr. Mulroney to the Airbus matter is to speculate or to endorse the concept of guilt by association.”
While Oliphant understandably concludes he can’t go there, he does not publicly ask why — given what he has already learned — he was explicitly forbidden from asking the real questions that might have finally answered the only remaining question that really matters: What was the money for?
Only in Canada could we be so uninterested in learning where $25 million in bribes went, and for what.
– Stephen Kimber, the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of Kings College, is the author of eight books.