OTTAWA – It all started as an inquiry into Senator Mike Duffy’s housing expense claims.
But more than a year later, an RCMP probe has morphed into a sprawling investigation resulting in 31 charges being laid Thursday against Duffy, the former Conservative and one-time TV news star.
Here are six details revealed by RCMP Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud:
1. Four provinces, four years of information:
Police said the investigation, which began around May 2013, comprised four years of expense claims, bank statements, phone records and thousands of emails.
Investigators from the RCMP’s sensitive and international investigations section travelled to Ontario and Prince Edward Island to interview witnesses, as well as British Columbia (where Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former legal adviser Ben Perrin resides) and Saskatchewan (the home province of Conservative Senator David Tkachuk, who was involved in the Senate audit of Duffy’s expenses).
“This investigation started as a referral into expense claims. Since then investigators followed numerous leads, and today’s charges are the result of a careful examination of all the facts,” Michaud said Thursday.
2. Fraud claims total $200,000, plus the $90,000 cheque:
The Duffy investigation uncovered four different “avenues”: Senate housing expense claims, Senate travel claims, consulting contracts and former chief of staff Nigel Wright’s $90,000 cheque to the disgraced senator.
The total fraud and breach of trust charges amount to more than $200,000. The RCMP also charged Duffy with defrauding the government, breach of trust and “bribery of a judicial officer” in relation to Wright’s cheque.
If he’s found guilty, Duffy faces a maximum of 14 years for both the fraud and bribery charges if they’re prosecuted as indictable offences, and five years for breach of trust.
3. Only one person charged in the $90,000 deal
Duffy was charged under section 119 (1)(a) of the Criminal Code, which states that the holder of a “judicial office” corruptly accepts money. But the RCMP has previously said Wright, who gave Duffy the money, won’t be charged.
The reason, says criminal defence lawyer Michael Spratt, could be twofold: The RCMP likely determined Wright didn’t corruptly offer the money; and his testimony against Duffy is stronger if he’s not charged himself.
“By not charging him with anything, they’re able to preserve the integrity of his evidence and use that evidence in the prosecution of Duffy,” Spratt said.
But who’s the “judicial officer”? Likely Duffy himself, not Wright, because Duffy is the one charged under the Criminal Code (the definition also includes members of parliament or provincial legislators).
Confused? Duffy’s lawyer says he is, too.
“I am sure that I am not the only Canadian who will now wonder openly how what was not a crime or bribe when Nigel Wright paid it on his own initiative became, however mysteriously, a crime or bribe when received by Senator Duffy,” Donald Bayne said in a statement Thursday.
4. Contracts for personal gain
The RCMP revealed new details about $65,000 in consulting contracts Duffy allegedly gave his friend Gerald Donohue for little apparent work.
Part of the funds from the contracts were used “for personal gain,” the RCMP said, or for expenses “which circumvent Senate oversight.”
5. “Another Senate file”
Michaud left reporters with this tantalizing detail: “We continue to work on another Senate file.”
Retired Liberal Senator Mac Harb and suspended former Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau already face fraud and breach of trust charges in relation to their own expense claims.
The logical choice for that additional “Senate file” would be suspended Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin, who’s the subject of a separate fraud and breach of trust investigation but hasn’t been charged.
6. A busy September
The Conservatives may have a headache on their hands when Parliament resumes in September. They’ll try to set the agenda when the House of Commons is set to resume on Sept. 15. But the Duffy Affair will take centre stage when he makes his first court appearance in Ottawa – the very next day.
Oh and did we mention – 2015 is an election year?