Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mulroney Cool on the Hot Seat

Seventy year old former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney is very careful. He's very careful with the words he chooses to use when explaining choice bits of information, and careful not to volunteer potentially damaging words that may further taint a public perception of the man.

At the Oliphant Inquiry, commission lawyer Richard Wolson, has been calmly interrogating Mr. Mulroney. Wolson appears to be extremely well prepared, and very knowledgeable of details in the Mulroney-Schrieber controversy, and is asking him questions that the PM would have never spoke about otherwise.

The controversy surrounds cash payments he received in 1993, 1994 and 1995 from German businessman Karlheinz-Schreiber. Schreiber said it was about $300,000, but $225,000 is stated by the apparently late taxpayer Mulroney. It was not until the year 2000 that taxes were finally paid on it. This came out in the inquiry today as well. Taxes were paid on only half of the $225,000. Mulroney explained that he handed the matter to a well known federal tax auditor who worked with authorities in Quebec and the government of Canada, and they determined the tax amounts that were paid.

It was suggested that Mulroney's tax situation in this matter was legal and in the tradition of regular income and tax protocol in Quebec. This is very vague to this blogger as well, just how that worked. But technically, there is no legal wrong doing up to this point.

Questions may remain even after this inquiry about why he accepted cash payments of $75,000 in the three previously referenced years. Schreiber and he had met in hotels, on different occasions, and an envelope with $1000 bills were given to Mulroney, who then kept the cash in a home safe, and a New York safety deposit box.

Brian Mulroney had practised law for years himself, headed up the IOC, and was PM, a bright and capable person. He helped negotiate the 1988 free trade deal with the U.S. Anyone would expect him to be cognizant of how his questionable behavior would affect his anticipated and personally cherished legacy. For a man who attacked another PM, Trudeau a couple of years ago in his book, you would expect him to be very careful when accepting payments for work done. It can also be known as money "under the table". For six years, it seemed that way, until Mulroney found out that Schreiber would make it public that he had tax issues. Then the PM acted, and had some taxes paid.

Why cash? He explained that the money was a retainer for his services. Maybe he was hoping to convince the commission that upon completion of his work with Schreiber, he would then have a final payment number, and then, pay taxes.

The Oliphant Inquiry has been an interesting drama. For the main characters involved, it is a sad culmination to what has to be extreme stress and embarrassment for them and their families. Mulroney admitted to at least making the mistake of taking cash.

Lawyer Wolson, armed with truth-seeking missile-like questions, also prodded the PM to elaborate on his meetings with Schreiber in the '90s. Previously he had merely referred to their meetings as "having met for a coffee for two". Hounded by the equally word-careful Wolson, Mulroney explained that he while he told the truth (under-emphasized and as simply-put as he told it), he did not previously volunteer the real essence of his meeting with Schreiber. This very fact is a key point in the inquiry - it sparks suspicion and doubts about Mulroney.

The Oliphant Inquiry continues tomorrow with Mulroney being questioned for at least two more hours. It's really too bad on a personal level that their business was done in cash and squirreled hidden away. On a human level, it is sad to see the former Prime Minister as a man in his 70th year, have this high level stress. However, if it's any consolation, he has been mainly cool under this public scrutiny, and his mind is connecting the neurons quite well in forming his answers. Unfortunately for him, the answers, or lack of, is the fire for the curiousity of the commission.

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