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Guite arrested, pleads not guilty

(PoliticsWatch posted May 10, 2004) OTTAWA - Just two weeks after the prime minister's Quebec lieutenant called for charges to be laid in Adscam, Chuck Guite, the former executive director of the sponsorship program, has been arrested by the RCMP. 

Guite and Jean Brault, president of the ad agency Groupaction, both face five counts of fraud and one conspiracy by fraudulent means count totalling $1.9 million. 

The two men face up to 10 years in jail for each count for a possible total of 60 years in jail.
 
The charges deal with three Groupaction contracts related to the sponsorship program issued between 1996 and 1999 and what the RCMP called a "bogus contract" worth $330,000 in connection with a communications strategy dealing with the new firearms legislation by the Department of Justice. The RCMP also allege Guite and Brault defrauded the federal government of $150,000 while handling a firearms-related contract dealing with "surveillance and documentation of sites and interest groups."

Guite was arrested at his home in Ottawa and Brault, accompanied by lawyer, turned himself in to the RCMP in Montreal at 10 a.m. this morning. 

Both men appeared in Quebec Superior Court in Montreal this afternoon and plead not guilty to the charges. They were both released on bail. 

The opposition reacted to news of the charges against Guite and Brault as just the tip of the iceberg in the scandal. 

They also raised questions about the timing of the charges in light of comments made last month by Prime Minister Paul Martin's Quebec Lieutenant, Jean Lapierre, who said in an interview with the Globe and Mail that the RCMP should lay charges to lessen public anger before an election. 

Speaking with reporters in Toronto today, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper called the timing of the criminal charges "suspicious." 

"We have Mr. Lapierre demanding charges be placed before an election only a couple of weeks ago," said Harper. "We have now the government in full pre-election mode trying to shut down inquiries and conveniently they can say they can charge somebody. I'm not questioning the appropriateness of the charges, but it's clear to me this is not complete.

"The police investigation is not complete, the Public Accounts investigation is not complete and the judicial inquiry hasn't begun. I think this is all more argument for the government to get on with completing these investigations to make sure all the truth is known." 

In the House of Commons, Conservative MP Peter MacKay said the charges against Guite and Brault will not provide Canadians with the answers they want in relation to the $250 sponsorship scandal, mainly was there political interference.

MacKay also targeted Lapierre's comments on the need for charges to be laid before an election.  

"Given the recent comments from the prime minister's Quebec lieutenant, Jean Lapierre, calling for charges in the sponsorship scandal, today's charges seem suspicious at best," MacKay asked. 

"I hope the honourable member is not impugning either the integrity or the independence of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police," said Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan in response. 

RCMP spokesman Cpl. Patrice Gelinas told reporters that the timing of the charges were not the responsibility of the RCMP. The police handed over legal documents to a Quebec Crown prosecutor on Feb. 25, just days after Auditor General Sheila Fraser tabled her report on the sponsorship program. The timing of the charges was at the discretion of the Crown, not the RCMP, and were not politically motivated, according to Gelinas. 

"Our investigation is totally independent from whatever is going on in politics. So we're doing our police investigation, notwithstanding what's going on everywhere else. It doesn't effect, by any means, our investigation." 

When asked specifically about Lapierre's comments he said, "We continue our investigation as usual." 

Liberal MP Marlene Jennings, who is vice-chair of the Public Accounts committee, put no stock in the opposition's hint of political interference. 

"Unlike the Conservatives and the Bloc and the NDP, I'm not a conspiracy fan," she said. 

The opposition also raised questions about the Liberal MPs on the Public Accounts committee and their enthusiasm to issue an interim report this week on the evidence heard to date. 

The Liberal-controlled committee will likely pass a motion tomorrow calling for such a report. But the opposition believes that the Liberals are merely trying to issue a "whitewash" report before the prime minister calls an election, expected before the end of the month. They argue that such a report will not shed enough light on the scandal as nearly 90 witnesses have yet to be heard. 

Even though the Prime Minister has said that the committee is its own master and he is not giving direction, today in the House Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan appeared to be calling upon the Public Accounts to put together an interim report. 

"I think especially in light of the charges today that were laid it is probably a good time for the Public Accounts committee to take stock of what they've heard so far and share that with the Canadian public," said McLellan. 

McLellan said the Public Accounts committee is not being shut down, but is merely issuing an interim report. However, an election call would stop the work of the committee. 

Meanwhile, RCMP said their investigation into the sponsorship program continues. 

"The investigation with respect to Groupaction and for the sponsorship program in general is ongoing," said Gelinas. "Nothing is concluded. This is merely one aspect of the whole investigation with respect to Groupaction."

Gelinas would not comment on how many RCMP investigators are working on the case, saying that information is of a "very sensitive operational nature." 

Brault and Guite join Paul Coffin, president of the agency Communications Coffin, as the only individuals to be charged in relation to the scandal to date. 

Check out these related links:

arrow-trans.gif (111 bytes) Martin's Quebec czar accused of playing politics with RCMP (April 22)

arrow-trans.gif (111 bytes) INVESTIGATION OF CONTRACTS RELATED TO CANADA’S VISIBILITY PROGRAM-FRAUD CHARGES LAID AGAINST CHARLES GUITÉ AND JEAN BRAULT (RCMP News Release)

arrow-trans.gif (111 bytes) Public Accounts Sponsorship Hearings 


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