Auditors called back to explain Duffy report – but it may not be public

Video: Auditors have been called back to explain Duffy report, but as Jacques Bourbeau reports, the meeting may not be made public.

OTTAWA – The Senate has yet to decide if next week’s meeting with outside auditors who reviewed Senator Mike Duffy’s expenses will take place in public.

The Senate internal economy committee called the meeting to question Deloitte auditors about their independence following allegations made in new RCMP court documents that some top Conservatives tried to meddle with the audit process.

The meetings are usually held in-camera, out of public view, but the committee took the rare step of opening up the meeting in May to scrutinize Duffy’s expenses – where it was revealed he claimed living expenses in Ottawa while travelling elsewhere.

A spokesman for Conservative Senator Claude Carignan, the government leader in the Senate, said he doesn’t know yet if Thursday’s meeting will be held in private.

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“Depends on what will happen at the next meeting,” said spokesman Sébastien Gariépy.

READ MORE: PMO ‘influenced’ Senate report into Mike Duffy’s expenses, court documents allege

There is no internal economy meeting scheduled for next week, but Deloitte confirmed its team of auditors will be back on Parliament Hill Thursday. It’s possible the decision to open up the meeting could be made on Thursday as it gets underway.

The chair of the 15-person committee, Conservative Senator Gerald Comeau, did not respond to an interview request. Neither did Liberal Senator George Furey, the committee’s deputy chair. Conservative Senator David Tkachuk, the former chair, said he supports whatever Comeau decides to do.

A spokesman for Deloitte said the company has been fully cooperating with investigators.

“We are confident that our ethical standards are consistent with or exceed global best practices,” Vital Adam wrote in an email.

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“We have appeared before the Senate audit committee on several occasions to answer their questions about this matter. We look forward to doing so again next Thursday.  We will be answering all questions at that time.”

Emails contained in the court documents suggest Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s staff and Conservative Senators helped to manipulate the Senate committee and its report into Duffy’s contested living expenses. The emails suggest officials, including Conservative Senator Irving Gerstein, also tried to influence an independent audit commissioned by the Senate.

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None of the allegations have been proven and no charges have been laid.

RCMP Cpl. Greg Horton quotes a March 1 email from Nigel Wright, then Harper’s chief of staff, to former PMO lawyer Benjamin Perrin. Duffy’s lawyer had asked Perrin for an update on whether Duffy would be removed from the Deloitte audit.

Wright replied he did not have an update, but said he asked Gerstein to try to influence the outcome of the audit.

“Today I asked Sen. Gerstein to actually work through senior contacts at Deloitte and with Sen. (Marjory) LeBreton,” Wright wrote to Perrin.

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“The outcome we are pushing for is for Deloitte to report publicly that IF Kanata (Ont.) were the primary residence then the amount owing would be the $90,000 figure and that since Sen. Duffy has committed to repay this amount then Deloitte’s work in determining the primary residence is no longer needed.”

On March 21, Patrick Rogers, manager of parliamentary affairs at the PMO, wrote in an email to Wright that he had heard from Gerstein, and “any repayments will not change Deloitte’s conclusion on residency because Duffy’s lawyer has not provided them anything.”

He continued, “I would propose that the Senator (Duffy) continue to not engage with Deloitte.”

READ MORE: Conservative Senator Irving Gerstein refuses questions on role in Senate scandal

In an interview with RCMP in July, Gerstein told investigators he knew one of the partners at Deloitte, Michael Runia, and asked Runia if he could share the status of the audit.

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Gerstein said Wright and Rogers asked him to contact Deloitte and ask if Duffy repaying $90,000 would stop the audit, but Runia told Gerstein the audit would continue, the documents say.

Runia did not respond to request for comment. Cpl. Horton wrote in the documents that Runia and Gerstein have regular contact because Deloitte audits the Conservative fund, the fundraising arm that Gerstein chairs.

Gerstein refused to answer questions about the audit on Thursday.

A Senate sub-committee comprised of then-chair Tkachuk, Conservative Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen and Furey used softer language in its report on Duffy’s expenses compared to former Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau and retired Liberal Senator Mac Harb.

The senators have said Duffy was treated differently because he had already paid the $90,000 in ineligible expenses back. It was later revealed that Wright gave Duffy the money.

Speaking in Winnipeg Friday, Harper said his office has been fully assisting with the RCMP investigation.

“There are two individuals who are responsible and under investigation, as we said from the outset they are Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright, and we will do everything to make sure the investigation proceeds and those who acted improperly are held accountable,” he said.

NDP MP Murray Rankin said it’s “absolutely outrageous” that a senator or members of the PMO would talk to auditors, and it could have legal consequences.

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“It’s devastating to what was supposed to be an independent audit so that we can finally get to the truth of the Senate expenses,” he said.

With files from The Canadian Press