Money for nothing?

Oh look.

A former senior executive of Bear Head Industries says he had no idea former prime minister Brian Mulroney was working for the company promoting its proposal to build light-armoured vehicles in Canada in the early 1990s.

Greg Alford, then vice-president of Bear Head’s corporate affairs, was testifying today before a public hearing probing Mulroney’s business dealings with German-Canadian businessman Karlheinz Schreiber and the $300,000 in cash Mulroney received for unsuccessfully lobbying for Bear Head.

“No,” said Alford when asked whether he knew whether the former Progressive Conservative PM was working in any capacity for Bear Head beginning the summer of 1993.

So. Mulroney says Schreiber hired him to lobby for Bear Head internationally. Schreiber says he hired him to lobby for Bear Head in Canada. But the vice-president of Bear Head testifies that he’s not aware of Mulroney having done any lobbying for the firm, period.

Which doesn’t prove Schreiber didn’t hire Mulroney to lobby for Bear Head; Schreiber says he kept it a closely guarded secret. But there’s precious little evidence that he did, other than the list of dead foreign leaders Mulroney told the ethics committee he’d buttonholed. For his part Schreiber, though he complains that Mulroney did no work on the file, can’t explain what work he expected him to do and admits he never followed up or asked for progress reports.

Let me advance a tentative hypothesis: the whole lobbying-for-Bear Head story was a sham. Whatever reason Schreiber had for slipping Mulroney $300,000 in cash after he left office, it wasn’t to lobby for Bear Head — though it suited both Mulroney and Schreiber to say it was.

A propos of nothing, this is also interesting

Brian Mulroney’s former appointments secretary while he was leader of the official opposition in 1983 told the Oliphant inquiry Monday that he saw German-Canadian businessman Karlheinz Schreiber in his boss’s office only once.

On that one occasion in the fall of 1983, Schreiber showed up accompanying Maxwell Strauss, the son of former Bavarian premier and Airbus chairman Franz Josef Strauss, Pat MacAdam told the public inquiry looking into business dealings between Schreiber and Mulroney.

Why is this interesting? Because Mulroney testified in 1996, in his famous $50-million libel suit against the government of Canada, that he did not know any member of the Strauss family — along with some other things that turned out not to be quite the whole truth.

And of course this is very interesting, too.

UPDATE: Mind you, Alford’s credibility is also in question. A former senior VP at Frank Moores’s notorious lobby shop, Government Consultants International, Alford told the ethics committee in February that GCI had no involvement with Airbus. We now know this is untrue. In fact, Alford himself worked the Airbus file.

UPPERDATE: But then, Alford is only one of several people, some with close ties to Mulroney, who have seemed reluctant to discuss their involvement with Airbus.

Moores himself — Mulroney’s onetime campaign organizer, fundraiser, and close friend, whom Mulroney appointed to the Air Canada board in 1985 — maintained to the day he died that he had nothing to do with Airbus or its deal to sell passenger jets to Air Canada; in fact, he pocketed millions in commissions from the sale. Indeed, he was working for Airbus as early as August 1983, two months after Mulroney won the Conservative leadership and eight months after the famous “dump Clark” convention where Joe Clark was pushed out — with the help of many thousands of dollars from Airbus chairman Franz Josef Strauss, dispensed via Schreiber.

Fred Doucet, Mulroney’s former chief of staff, also told the ethics committee that he had “no knowledge at all about anything involving Airbus.” In fact, documents have since come to light showing that he was intimately aware of it. Indeed, Doucet was drafting a memo to Schreiber detailing the precise number of planes Air Canada had taken delivery of on the very day Mulroney took his first delivery of cash from Schreiber.

Marc Lalonde, the former Liberal cabinet minister who also lobbied on behalf of Airbus, neglected to specify his involvement in his own testimony before the ethics commitee, saying only that he had not been hired by Schreiber to represent Airbus. In fact, as he later acknowledged, he had been hired by Airbus directly.

And of course, there’s Mulroney — who maintained under oath in 1996 that he had never had any dealings with Schreiber, after having taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from him — money that we now know came from a Swiss bank account (codename: BRITAN), into which Schreiber had deposited a portion of the millions of dollars in “success fees” he had collected for lobbying in Canada on behalf of his European clients, including Airbus. Did Mulroney know the source of the money? There’s no evidence that he did. And both men insist the payments had nothing to do with Airbus.

But if the inquiry’s mandate is to find out why Schreiber paid Mulroney all that money, and what if anything Mulroney did to earn it, it would seem an angle worth exploring, no?

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.