The RCMP has concluded its eight-year, multimillion-dollar investigation into the Airbus affair without laying any new charges, providing a final vindication for former prime minister Brian Mulroney.
Supporters of Mr. Mulroney denounced the investigation yesterday as inspired by a Liberal government bent on destroying his reputation and that of his Progressive Conservative government.
Mr. Mulroney was not available for comment yesterday.
Senator Marjory LeBreton, a close family friend, said the lengthy investigation was a considerable ordeal for Mr. Mulroney and his family.
"I'm happy beyond belief for them," she said. "This is a total and absolute vindication for Mr. Mulroney."
She accused Industry Minister Allan Rock, who was justice minister when the investigation was launched, of passing along to the RCMP rumour and innuendo that precipitated the investigation.
An RCMP spokesman said its investigators simply followed normal operating procedures in pursuing allegations of fraud and ended the eight-year, international probe when they ran out of leads.
"When we come to the point where there are no more leads to follow and nothing more to substantiate the allegations that were originally levied, then it is incumbent upon us to stop the investigation, which is what we have done," Assistant Commissioner Bill Lenton said.
In one of the most politically charged chapters in Canadian legal history, the federal government in 1997 paid $2-million in an out-of-court settlement to Mr. Mulroney after admitting that its officials libelled him in a letter to Swiss justice officials.
The Canadian government letter, dated Sept. 29, 1995, had asked for help in investigating allegations of improper payments to Mr. Mulroney, former Tory lobbyist Frank Moores and German-Canadian businessman Karlheinz Schreiber in connection with Air Canada's purchase of 34 jets from Airbus Industries in 1988.
Although the government apologized to Mr. Mulroney and said there was no basis for claiming he had been involved in criminal activity, the RCMP kept the file open and dedicated as many as eight investigators to it.
Mr. Lenton could not give a cost estimate for the investigation. But with at least four investigators and as many as eight dedicated to it over the past eight years, and with the need for several trips to Switzerland and Germany, the tab clearly ran to several million dollars.
Progressive Conservative House Leader Peter MacKay, whose father, Elmer, was a Mulroney cabinet minister, suggested Prime Minister Jean Chrétien had engaged in a witch-hunt against the former prime minister.
"There are a lot of unanswered questions here about the origins of the investigation and why it dragged on so long," Mr. MacKay said. "And about what, if any, political interference there was."
Mr. Lenton rejected suggestions of political interference, saying the force is independent and pursues allegations without political bias.
A spokesman for Mr. Chrétien, Jim Munson, offered little comment on the RCMP news and no apology to Mr. Mulroney or others who were accused.
"The RCMP opened the investigation; the RCMP investigated, and the RCMP closed it. The story is over," Mr. Munson said.
The RCMP noted that the force did not come away from the investigation empty-handed.
Mounties laid fraud charges in October 2002 against Eurocopter Canada Ltd. - formerly MBB Helicopters Canada Ltd. - and two German citizens, Kurt Pfleiderer and Heinz Pluckthun.
Those charges related to the 1986 sale of helicopters to the Canadian Coast Guard. That sale was one of three mentioned in the 1995 Swiss letter as under investigation.
In a news release yesterday, the RCMP said it "has now concluded that the remaining allegations cannot be substantiated and that no charges will be laid, beyond the charge of fraud already before the courts."
The Mounties informed Mr. Mulroney in a letter dated April 17, signed by Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli, that he was no longer under investigation.
That letter, which was provided to The Globe and Mail, simply noted that an investigation had been ongoing, details of which had been described in the 1995 letter to Swiss authorities that had named Mr. Mulroney.
It said the force had concluded the investigation after determining that those allegations cannot be substantiated. It offered no regrets or apologies.
Mr. Schreiber received a similar letter, but his legal problems are far from over.
He faces charges in Germany and has been ordered to stand trial there in relation to allegations of bribery and tax evasion related to the 1991 sale of German tanks to Saudi Arabia.
In a brief interview yesterday, he welcomed the RCMP decision to end its investigation. "I can only say that I am pleased with the decision," he said, before referring all other questions to his lawyer, Edward Greenspan.
Mr. Greenspan is preparing for final arguments in Mr. Schreiber's extradition hearing in Toronto. He said the conclusion of the RCMP investigation suggests there is no basis for charges against his client in Germany either, since prosecutors there relied on the same discredited witness, Giorgio Pelossi, who has himself been charged with money-laundering.
However, Justice Department lawyer Howard Piafsky said the extradition hearing has little to do with the RCMP investigation, noting that German authorities relied heavily on records from Swiss bank accounts for their evidence against Mr. Schreiber.
"Mr. Pelossi has been extensively interviewed for that case, but there is extensive corroboration as well," he said.