So - bang, or whimper? - Macleans.ca

So – bang, or whimper?

Liveblogging Karlheinz Schreiber’s return to the Oliphant Inquiry

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schreiberOn the eve of next week’s Mulroneython — which is, as far as ITQ knows, pretty much unprecedented in the annals of Canadian judicial independent commissions of inquiry in terms of the length of time that a former prime minister will spend on the witness stand — Karlheinz Schreiber will once again take centre stage at Old City Hall today, where he will likely respond to yesterday’s forensic accounting report, as well as various other issues that have come up since his first appearance. Oh, and knowing Schreiber, he’ll also try to leave a few parting gifts — by which, of course, we mean new allegations and previously unrevealed evidence that may or may not back up his claims — to welcome his former business associate turned nemesis to the inquiry next Tuesday.

9:25:44 AM
Welcome to Schreiberia! Or welcome back, to be scrupulously accurate, since this is actually the fifth day that he’ll be on the stand, and – actually, he never really went anywhere, come to think of it. Only difference is that today, he’ll be at the front of the room and not prowling like a Siamese cat between the lawyers’ tables and the media camp.

9:33:24 AM
Oh, my — we have drama! Before Wolson could get cracking with his reexamination of Schreiber, Richard Auger rose to ask the judge for a ruling to ensure that his client will be able to attend the rest of the proceedings, rather than, say, being escorted onto a plane back to Germany later today, which is what seems to be the general theory in the Victoria Room as far as what lies in his immediate future. The request, as it turns out, took other counsel by surprise — I guess he didn’t give notice — so the judge has adjourned for ten minutes to allow for a little private lawyer-on-lawyer-on-lawyer chat. ITQ will keep you posted on any developments, official or otherwise.

9:38:34 AM
I think it would be nearly impossible to look more self-satisfied than Guy Pratte when he thinks things are about to unexpectedly go his way. There is much chitterchattering amongst us non-lawyerly types over what this could mean, and what Oliphant will do; Schreiber, meanwhile, is sitting in his usual spot, flipping through his binders and smiling at all and sundry who pass him on the way out the door.

It will come as no surprise to anyone, I’m sure, that our numbers in the media encampment have swelled considerably, although this is nothing compared to what will happen on Tuesday morning, I’m sure.
Schreiber is now holding an impromptu scrum from his seat — he’s sitting, we’re standing, so old world he is — and pointing out the previously unnoticed by the rest of us pair of smiling gentlemen from the German embassy who are in attendance today, who he, it seems, suspects to have more on their to-do list than delivering in-person well wishes to a fellow countryman. Probably with good reason. Anyway, the commission communications team eventually intervenes to remind him that scrumming *inside* the inquiry room is usually frowned upon, and we return to our respective corners.

9:55:41 AM
I can’t even *imagine* what’s going through the judge’s head right now. It’s one thing to agree to preside over the investigation of a former prime minister’s past business dealings, but take on the German legal system? That wasn’t in the job description. Oh, and just to provide a teeny bit of context, there apparently already *is* an order to allow Schreiber to attend *the inquiry*, but one with wording sufficiently ambiguous – or so the theory goes – that it wouldn’t necessarily apply for the duration.

10:00:55 AM
Alright, so just a moment ago, virtually every single lawyer in the room has now vanished behind the curtains, where – we assume – the judge has his chambers, or whatever you call his inner sanctum at a commission of inquiry. Meanwhile, Craig Oliver is doing a standup in the hallway on — the retirement of Clerk of the Privy Counsel Kevin Lynch, as it turns out. Huh. I guess he’s not getting furtive berry updates from the Oliphant backrooms either.

10:14:06 AM
What appears to have been the full bevy of lawyers have now *left* the chambers, and scattered to their own respective backrooms — there’s a rabbits’ warren of makeshift mobile command units for the various teams of counsel down the halls behind and underneath the inquiry room, but I’ve never been able to figure out exactly where. Meanwhile, us media types are pretty much lost, as far as what’s going on — lots of theorizing as to what Schreiber’s ultimate strategy may be, and whether this is just the opening move in a gambit that will end for a request for judicial review, which could throw the timing of the rest of the proceedings into doubt. As annoying as it is to have our now-familiar morning schedule out of whack, I do enjoy when nobody knows what’s happening.

10:19:03 AM
And – oh, here we go. Apparently, an agreement has been thrashed out between the various lawyers, and the timing of arguments on the motion for an order has been decided: it’ll go before the judge a week from Tuesday, which means that the right honourable testimony will go ahead next week, as planned.

And that’s that, as far as the motion; Wolson once again gives the judge notice that he will be examining Schreiber on Navigant, as well as other evidence, but reserves the right to *reexamine* the witness on Navigant after other counsels have had their shot at him.

Oliphant, it transpires, has the distinct opinion that there are things going on behind the scenes of which he is not aware – hard to miss that – but Auger assures him that he will continue to discuss the issue with fellow counsel, particularly Vicary, who represents – in case you’ve forgotten, what with him being so quiet throughout the last few weeks of testimony – the Attorney General.

10:24:55 AM
Wolson assures the judge that nothing “sinister” is afoot, and Oliphant reserves comment for the moment; he then briskly summons Schreiber to the stand, and notes that he apologizes for the delay, adding that it wasn’t *his* fault. Schreiber is then re-sworn in, and Wolson – who we haven’t seen in ages, it seems; although I do enjoy Roitenberg’s occasional creepings into wonkery.

Ooh, there is, apparently, evidence related to handwriting analysis in the hopper – a Canada Border Services Agency analysis, to be precise – related to the infamous mandate letter. We don’t know what the conclusions were — and won’t until it is tabled — but Wolson hints that it will form part of his re-examination (or maybe examination), so we should find out by the end of the day.

10:30:17 AM
And now, back to the binders – the original Schreiber binders, and a diary entry from December 18th – no year; they never give years and it drives me *crazy* – with the words Marc, 460 PM, Frank and Gerry. Wolson reminds Schreiber that, in an interview, he – Schreiber – explained that, in this case, “PM” meant “per machine”, not “prime minister”, and Schreiber confirms that this is the case, and that this note had “nothing” to do with the PM.

10:33:56 AM
Wolson directs Schreiber over to the Navigant report, and the chart of various meetings alleged between himself and the PM. He goes over the three dates — and points to a July 1993 Britan withdrawal of $100,000 – cash – which, Schreiber confirms, was the same cash he provided to Mulroney at the Mirabel meeting; Wolson then goes through the *other* withdrawals, posing the same question for each of the next two dates — was it the same money? — and gets the same answers from Schreiber. Given the untraceability of cash payments, I guess he has to put all this on the record. I do wonder why, for the last meeting, Schreiber took it out in two separate installments of $50,000 each, rather than one haul.
Finally, on December 14, 1994, as per the Navigant chart, Schreiber withdrew $225,000 from the Britan account, and moved it to a *new* account, also named Britan, according to a previous interview with Schreiber, because he didn’t want to leave it in the first account. Why? Wolson doesn’t ask.

10:43:20 AM
Wolson heads back to the June 3, 1993 meeting with the PM and Fred Doucet, which both Schreiber and Doucet noted in their diaries, and points to an entry on the margin for the next day, and that intriguing “Frankfurt Brian-Max 1236” entry, which refers, he asks and Schreiber confirms, to Brian Mulroney and Max Strauss.

Then it’s off down the Navigant trail, and the “1236” notation, which seems to correspond with the amount that he had in the Frankfurt account on June 4, 1993. The “1236” amount also appears on the Navigant chart, dated June 23,1993 — “an important date”, Wolson notes, as that was when he met with Mulroney at Harrington Lake — and — oh, goodness, this is getting complicated, and I forgot to pack my handy Navigant chart. Anyway, between those two dates, the Frankfurt account had contained roughly $1.2 million, which Schreiber had known at the Harrington Lake meeting; Wolson wonders if money was discussed at that point, and Schreiber denies that it came up. They didn’t talk money at Harrington Lake, he insists, although he adds that when he left, he told Mulroney he was going to check how much money was available for the Montreal project — which he knew — although really, Schreiber admits, he had to talk to Frank Moores, since – or so Schreiber claims – he was the owner of the Frankfurt account.

10:54:00 AM
Schreiber *really* should resist the urge to chuckle when being examined by Wolson — he *hates* that. Anyway, he wants to go over the three different versions of the Harrington Lake meeting that Schreiber provided during his testimony: when asked when the agreement between himself and Mulroney actually took place, he seems to have given not entirely consistent responses over whether the “ongoing dialogue” had begun on June 3, 1993, or June 23, or the August meeting at Mirabel – where the first bundle of money actually changed hands. Wolson reads back Schreiber’s various timelines, which are, one realizes on hearing them one after another, not actually contradictory, but sufficiently riddled with ambiguity as to confuse the whole issue, which really, shouldn’t be surprising, given the source.

Schreiber confirms that he arranged for the money to be transfered, and eventually withdrew the $100,000 in July – a month before the Mirabel meeting – so he would be able to pay him on the spot. Which does seem to suggest that, as far as *he* was concerned, an arrangement – of some sort, at least – was in place after the June 23 encounter.

11:05:16 AM
More diary entries – July 6 1993, arrangements to, as far as Schreiber would have it, transfer money to the Britan account, and a call to Elmer MacKay that not even Schreiber can remember – he would have to be “quite exceptional” to remember *that* call, since he spoke with “Elmer” often.”He is a good friend,” he reminds him. At the time, Schreiber was in Germany, and then there’s a bit of a scramble for a binder that includes Schreiber’s July 12th diary page – which was the day that he allegedly started the Britan account, or at least the *banker* did – and on the same day, the words “Elmer” and what seens to be the words “do the books”, although Schreiber suggests it means “d.o” – or “day of” and “the booking”. Schreiber insists that the two entries “have nothing to do with each other”, but Wolson is undaunted; he notes that there are also correlations on other payment dates – all of those entries include notations that mention Elmer MacKay, as well as “Brian”. Schreiber isn’t sure if those calls actually happened, but concurs that he would, at the very least, have been *intending* to call him.

11:13:54 AM
Wolson asks whether this was just a coincidence, and Schreiber insists that it is – he and MacKay spoke “frequently” – and adds that if MacKay had known he was paying Mulroney – in cash, at that – “he would have been on the roof of a cathedral”. I think that means “mad”, but you never can tell with translidioms, can you? Especially those of a Schreiberian flavour.

11:15:34 AM
Oh boy! The mandate letter! We all remember the mandate letter, right? The three different versions, the denials by Schreiber that he handwrote the names of his companies on a blank copy of the document, as well as other writing that may or may not have been written by Schreiber, but he called a “miracle” for appearing.

11:24:32 AM
Breaking forensic detectivizing news: as per the analysis by CBSA, the Schreiber-questioned notation on the Doucet version of the mandate letter show *no* signs of having been produced mechanically – traced, or photocopied – and there is no evidence of insertion. He offers Schreiber the opportunity to, “on reflection”, back down on his denial that he added the notes, but Schreiber, following the in-for-a-penny rule of defence, refuses to do so. He has no memory of writing those words, and it doesn’t make sense.

11:27:10 AM
Moving back to the Elmer issue, Wolson wonders why Schreiber never told his dear friend MacKay that Mulroney was working for him on Bear Head, and Schreiber doesn’t really explain. Wolson reminds Schreiber that, as per his claims, he hired Mulroney specifically to help out on a project that MacKay believed in, and that “we have a real shot”, and wonders — why?

11:44:02 AM
Oh man, I’m *so* sorry about that, everyone — the sudden dropoff in updates; there’s nothing worse than liveblogger radio silence — but I won’t bother explaining the bizarre technical difficulties that brought it on; basically, Wolson finished up with Schreiber in fairly short, if devastating order, and got him to admit that the mysterious, previously unrevealed meeting between himself and Mulroney – the one he dropped as a bombshell during his *last* appearance – had nothing to do with Bear Head, or Airbus, or anything else of relevence to the inquiry. He also managed to prompt a shamelessly Oli-syco-phantical tribute from the witness on how very, very happy he is that this inquiry is *finally* underway, and that Canadians will learn the truth. He and Wolson wet a few rounds on the question of how often Schreiber actually met with Mulroney over the years, with Schreiber noting that not *everything* makes it into his diary, and eventually, Wolson stands down – reserving his right to reexamine the witness, of course – and hands the floor over to Bob Houston. Who, really, is only interested in getting Schreiber to admit that he doesn’t have cancelled cheques – or any bank records, actually – from various Canadian accounts, and pick through the Navigant report with in his usual supercilious, borderline hostile style. There, now you’re caught up!

11:52:47 AM
Ooh, that just almost got interesting — being nitpicked away by Houston about various withdrawals and deposits and bank accounts — Schreiber eventually gets rankled enough to take a shot back in return, noting that none of these transactions had *anything* to do with Houston’s client – Doucet, that is – asking him for “money from Airbus”, thereby elicting a lawyerly snarl, and the response that he “won’t even pick up on that bait” before immediately concluding his questions.

11:56:51 AM
With that, it’s a half hour break for lunch – yes, the schedule is all out of flux today, and it’s making ITQ quite frantic – although Oliphant does get Schreiber to tell him again that he does not remember scribbling on the mandate letter, and has no explanation for how his writing got onto Doucet’s copy.

Back at 12:30ish for Auger’s last – well, for now – chance to question his client. See you then!

12:28:14 PM
Much speculative glee – amidst the obligatory minority view grumbling that there’s “no news” here – over what Wolson’s choice of subjects on which to reexamine Schreiber might hint about the direction that commission counsel are leaning, particularly in light of next week’s big show.

12:30:59 PM
And we’re back! Auger is at the lectern, and he points Schreiber to the Navigant report, noting that, after reviewing those findings, certain events may have “come back to his memory” — oh, that’s a delicious turn of phrase — and directs him to page 47, which elicits a vaguely endearing “Aicgh” from his client. The chart, Auger explains for the benefit of those of us who forgot our copies at home, looks at Thyssen-related funds, and the transfer of cash to Frankfurt, and cash. Schreiber agrees that this revelation filled in a “hole in his memory” — he claims that the $500,000 cash withdrawal was made at the request of Frank Moores, and that the money was given to Gary Ouellette, which “closed the gap”: Out of $4 million, $1 million went to GCI — half in cash — Swiss francs — and the rest as a transfer. Did he withdraw the cash? Yes, and he delivered it to Ouellette after Moores asked him to “hand it over” while he was in Europe. He didn’t know the purpose.

12:39:08 PM
Auger notes that Doucet never complained that his invoices to Schreiber went unpaid — which he did not, and I think maybe this goes to those pointed questions Houston keeps asking about various unrelated transactions – and then gets Schreiber to tell the judge that Rockcliffe Holdings has nothing at all to do with Bear Head – it’s a “private” enterprise. Unlike all those fully public and transparent numbered Swiss bank accounts, I guess.

12:41:02 PM
Finally, an explanation for why Schreiber took the money out over a month before he was scheduled to pay Mulroney; it was just when he happened to be in Switzerland, so he popped by the bank, and tucked it away in his home safe box until it was needed.

12:42:51 PM
After Auger gives Schreiber another opportunity to point out that he didn’t retract a single line from his diaries or bank records – which he does – Oliphant has a question for the witness: Did he not realize that the Understanding in Principle was, effectively, meaningless? Well, yes and no, Schreiber tells him — he knew he had Mulroney’s support, so why would he care what the bureaucrats thought? That’s not quite enough to unbaffle the judge as far as the document’s amazing ability to generate $600,000 in payments from Thyssen — he wants to know what, exactly, Thyssen got for the money – $6.5 million total, in fact. That’s a “misunderstanding” on the success fee, Schreiber tells him — GCI had been working on the file since 1985 without a retainer; when the agreement with Nova Scotia came through, the company paid out $2 million, and – oh, a brief tangent on how very much Thyssen wasn’t interested in getting grants from the government — the Canadian industrial landscape is littered with the “tombstones” of companies with nothing but grants, and “business plans”. Schreiber describes it as sort of a retroactive retainer for all the hard work GCI did on the project “without charging a nickel”. Such selfless, altruistic souls, those lobbyists of the past.

12:51:18 PM
And – oh, for a moment, it looked like today’s proceedings were about to end, but Auger has one more thing he needs from the judge: Confirmation that Schreiber is still under subpoena, which Oliphant gives him without reserve; he fully expects that Schreiber will be available to testify in future, should it be required. Sorry, smiling German embassy staff — looks like you’ll have to stick around for a few more days, at least.

And with that, we really *are* adjourned for the day — the week, in fact — which means that ITQ will be signing off for now, and heading back to the Hill to see what the rest of the world has been up to during our sabbatical. Don’t worry, we’ll be back, bright and early, when the bells ring on Tuesday!