You Had An Option, Sir

A SECRET TRIAL:
Brian Mulroney, Stevie Cameron, and the Public Trust
By William Kaplan
McGill-Queen’s University Press, 245 pp.

Right. On your behalf I have read this book and read it carefully. It is a severely detailed account of the whole complicated Eurocopter/Brian Mulroney/RCMP/Stevie Cameron affair. It promises to pin down the facts and make everything plain. Facts there are aplenty, amid the suppositions and swirling allegations and cagey denials, but in the end I’m not sure how much has been made plain.

A Secret Trial contains two explosive allegations, both first made public by William Kaplan and the Globe and Mail in November, 2003, when it was revealed that secret judicial proceedings had been under way in Toronto for more than two years involving charges of wrongdoing in government of Canada aircraft purchases during the Mulroney era. The first is that between late summer 1993 and December 1994, after Mulroney had left office, the former prime minister was paid $300,000 in cash by Karlheinz Schreiber, the German-Canadian businessman at the centre of bribery suspicions and wanted on bribery and tax evasion charges in Germany.

The second is that the Crown’s case against Schreiber and others had been built, at least in part, on the clandestine collaboration of investigative journalist Stevie Cameron, who had been assisting the RCMP as a confidential informant, and was so intent on nailing Mulroney that she agreed to waive her confidential status only if he were to be prosecuted in a court of law.

William Kaplan is a lawyer, legal scholar and author of Presumed Guilty: Brian Mulroney, the Airbus Affair and the Government of Canada, a book that forensically examined allegations that the former prime minister benefited improperly from Air Canada’s purchase of Airbus jets in 1988, and concluded that there was nothing to support any such slur. He knows this file inside out, so it was to Kaplan that the Globe and Mail turned for assistance in fall, 2003, when the newspaper learned that a secret trial was under way; that it turned on accusations of kickbacks in the government’s purchase of Coast Guard choppers from MBB/Eurocopter in 1986; that the same cast of characters was mentioned, including lobbyist and former Newfoundland premier Frank Moores; that the whole proceeding had been sealed to protect the reputation of innocent parties whose names might crop up (Brian Mulroney?); and that the CBC had somehow managed to wangle the court’s permission to sit in on this otherwise closed hearing from the beginning, while the rest of the media hadn’t a clue.

As a consequence of the Globe‘s intervention, the proceedings of the court were made public and on a Friday, Saturday and Monday in early November, the Globe splashed three stories in a row: the first detailing that the secret trial had been under way, the second suggesting that Stevie Cameron was a police informant, and the third alleging that Brian Mulroney took large sums of money from Schreiber.

At no time does Kaplan allege that there was anything illegal about the payments made to Mulroney. And unless I’m missing something, it is not clear to me that these payments were even mentioned at the secret Eurocopter trial. Rather, Kaplan came to hear of them in early 2001 from Philip Mathias, then a journalist with the National Post, who had been tipped off about the payments but whose editors chose not to run his story.

Though the payments may have been perfectly legal, they are nonetheless incendiary because they indicate a relationship between Brian Mulroney and a man being investigated for criminal wrongdoing. Mulroney, recall, had been accused of criminal acts in a formal letter of request from the Canadian government to the Swiss government in 1995. It was suggested that Mulroney profited from the sale of Airbus jetliners to Air Canada, a sale in which Schreiber was the Canadian agent for Airbus Industrie. Mulroney, in turn, launched a $50-million defamation suit against the Canadian government – settled in his favour when the Crown abjectly apologized to him – but under oath at a pre-trial discovery hearing Mulroney characterized his relationship with Schreiber as peripheral. The two, he said, had the occasional cup of coffee once Mulroney had left office, but that was the extent of it.

Kaplan knows how juicy this allegation of money passing hands between the two men is, and the guts of his book open and close with it. The first sentences read: “`Thank you,’ Brian Mulroney said in his usual polite way when Karlheinz Schreiber passed over the large envelope containing $100,000 in cash. ‘Thank you very much.’” Almost 200 pages later, Kaplan quotes Mulroney telling him in September, 2003: “Anyone who says anything about that will be in for one fuck of a fight.”

The difficulty is that the existence of the payments is nowhere incontrovertibly established. Kaplan’s source for the “thank you very much” quotation appears to be Schreiber. Associates of Mulroney do seem to acknowledge the monies, and Kaplan suggests that Mulroney admitted to the payments in an off-the-record conversation that Kaplan cannot repeat. But on the face of the evidence presented, it is perfectly possible that Mulroney entered into a business transaction with a man of whom, at the time, he had no reason to be suspicious, and only subsequently realized that being linked to Schreiber in any way would be injurious to his reputation.

As to Stevie Cameron, the journalist who well nigh made a career of pursuing allegations of wrongdoing against Mulroney, it seems that Kaplan has her dead to rights. Cameron initially denied being a police informant. When it became clear that the RCMP certainly considered her as such – and  indeed, the Eurocopter proceedings were held in secret in part to protect her identity – she argued that the RCMP was mistaken. For me, at any rate, it hardly matters whether she deserved the official designation of informant. Kaplan makes it seem abundantly clear that she collaborated with the police in ways that went far beyond what should be expected of an independent journalist.

Meanwhile, what of Eurocopter and the secret trial? Once unsealed, it became apparent that the proceedings had nothing whatsoever to do with corruption in the highest circles of governance. The Crown’s case is the following: The purchase of the choppers had been awarded without tender, since the Coast Guard was already using helicopters from this manufacturer and only the MBB/Eurocopter product met the necessary technical requirements. The contract explicitly specified that no commissions or fees be paid on the sale, since no broker was required.

If commissions were paid – without anyone having done anything to earn them – then the contract had been breached and the government possibly defrauded, because then the purchase amount would have been over and above the agreed-upon price. But that, the Crown alleges, is exactly what happened. Commissions totaling more than $1-million went to Schreiber and Moores, over the objections of the Canadian subsidiary of MBB/Eurocopter, which had to absorb the additional costs since these could not be passed on to the Coast Guard. If there was wrongdoing, it appears it was done at the behest of the German head office of the helicopter manufacturer.

The moral, I suppose, is that everyone involved who had nothing to hide should have come clean in the first place. Trying to keep things quiet in an open society almost always backfires. Secret trials are rarely a good idea, nor is clandestine collusion between journalists and the police. And neither is staying mum about receiving monies from a man whose financial dealings are the subject of police investigations on two continents.eg

Globe and Mail October 2, 2004