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A scandal-ridden summer

(PoliticsWatch posted September 15, 2003)  OTTAWA -- The RCMP investigation of the federal sponsorship program got even more political this weekend after it was reported that the Quebec wing of the federal Liberal Party has been asked to provide expense reports and other documents from its Montreal offices to RCMP detectives.

Created after the federalist side's razor-thin victory in the 1995 Quebec referendum, the sponsorship program would provide money to promoters of festivals and sporting events in exchange for the prominent placement of the Maple Leaf and federal government logos.

Also this weekend, new allegations of wrongdoing at HRDC emerged after a police investigation led to the firing or disciplining of more than six employees for undisclosed reasons.

It is fitting that on the eve of the first day of the fall sitting of Parliament, that  police investigations of government programs or public servants would make headlines. 

The summer has been filled with numerous arrests in connection with the misspending of federal tax dollars. 

PoliticsWatch.com looks back at five of the more interesting cases to arise this summer. 

Sponsorship Program

Paul Coffin, president of Coffin Communications, is facing 18 counts of fraud in an RCMP investigation into government sponsorship contracts. The RCMP told the Montreal Gazette that Coffin stands accused of "submitting and collecting on false invoices for a total of nearly $2 million." 

This includes an allegation of defrauding the government of $540,000 through the sponsorship of the CASCAR stock-car race series between 1997 and 2001 and an alleged $15,000 false invoice for an event relating to the 250th anniversary of the city of Mascouche. 

The program has been in the spotlight since since March 2002, when it was forced to admit that it could not find a report it paid Groupaction Marketing Inc., a Montreal company with Liberal ties, $550,000 to produce.

Public Works Contract Tendering

One billion dollars. That's how big a contract the federal government had to cancel after allegations of misconduct by Public Works and Government Services employees in the tendering of a contract to Royal LePage to provide moving and relocation services for National Defence and RCMP employees.

The deal was retendered after an internal investigation of conflict of interest by employees who evaluated the bids. 

While Charles Slowey, a Public Works Canada spokesman, told the National Post he could not "confirm or deny there were gifts" involved in the case, Public Works is developing new evaluation criteria for the contract and an entirely new group of public servants will be named to evaluate the new bids.

Health Canada Official Charged With Receiving Kickbacks

Cash, vacations and SUVs? This summer the RCMP charged Paul Cochrane, a former deputy minister at Health Canada, with fraud. His son and executive assistant also face charges. 

Cochrane had been an assistant deputy minister with Health Canada in charge of the First Nations and Inuit health branch. He had overseen a $1.2 billion budget. 

The charges are in relation to his dealings with the Virginia Fontaine Addictions Foundation. The RCMP alleged he signed a funding deal with the foundation in 1994 and gave it several hundred thousands dollars more than requested, according to a court affidavit. 

The RCMP says that shortly thereafter, he paid $185,000 in cash for a condo in Quebec. 

The director of the centre bought an SUV that eventually wound up in Cochrane's driveway within days of new funding agreements being signed, according to the RCMP. 

And Cochrane and his assistant received tens of thousands of dollars in travel benefits from native agencies, an affidavit said. 

The RCMP also alleges his son, Jeremy, was paid for a job he never did by a northern Ontario First Nations band. 

CCRA Official Charged With Soliciting Bribes

In July, Lakvlly Shankarnarayan, a scientific research adviser in the Toronto office of Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, was arrested over allegations he sought up to a half million dollars in bribes from companies trying to get tax breaks.

Shankarnarayan, worked on the CCRA's tax incentive program, which is designed to foster research and development in the private sector. Companies can receive tax credits for as much as 35 per cent of money spent on approved research programs, up to a maximum of $2-million.

While an alleged bribe in the case of one company was the catalyst of the arrest, police said they believe other companies were asked to pay similar commissions.

"We do have that suspicion and are asking other companies to come forward," Det. Sgt. Hutton told the Globe and Mail.

Public Works Employee Charged With Issuing $250,000 In Cheques To Himself

And in July, Allan McGuire, a retired Public Works official working at RCMP headquarters, was charged with allegedly writing $250,000 in government cheques to himself before he retired. He faces 10 counts of theft and fraud. 

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