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Businessman with Tory ties acts with ‘complete absence of conscience,’ his former lawyer says

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A Canadian businessman with ties to senior Conservative politicians and Israeli intelligence officials is being painted as an experienced money launderer by two lawyers he is suing for negligence in defending him against criminal charges in the United States.

Nathan Jacobson is a "controlling figure who is prepared to act with a complete absence of conscience in the pursuit of his goals," Toronto lawyer Steven Skurka alleges in a statement of defence filed in Ontario Superior Court.

Mr. Skurka and Marie Henein are defendants in lawsuits Mr. Jacobson filed earlier in which he seeks more than $60-million in damages. Mr. Jacobson claims the lawyers coerced him into pleading guilty to a crime he did not commit.

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The allegations against Ms. Henein are "false, concocted, self-serving and specious," says her statement of defence filed in court on Friday.

Mr. Skurka's statement of defence says Mr. Jacobson played a central role in an illegal online pharmaceutical operation, beyond what U.S. authorities had charged him with in the criminal case. The statement of defence also alleges Mr. Skurka has "learned" that Mr. Jacobson once offered to facilitate the movement of $500-million from a country in the Middle East to Gibraltar.

None of the allegations has been proven in court. Mr. Skurka and Ms. Henein, through their lawyers, declined to comment beyond what has been filed in court.

Ronald Flom, who is acting for Mr. Jacobson, said his client is out of the country and unavailable for comment. Mr. Flom called Mr. Skurka's allegations inappropriate and irrelevant to the legal action. "This case is about Steve Skurka. It is not about Nathan Jacobson," said Mr. Flom, adding that he intends to ask a court to order Mr. Skurka to remove much of what is in his statement of defence.

The legal proceeding stems from charges the U.S. government filed in 2006 against Mr. Jacobson, a 59-year-old businessman who is from Winnipeg and has Canadian and Israeli citizenship. Mr. Jacobson pleaded guilty in 2008 to a count of money laundering and forfeited $4.5-million, but remained free. He was permitted to withdraw that guilty plea and have charges dropped this past September, but did not get the money back.

Mr. Skurka was hired as the lead defence lawyer in 2007 and was paid a total of $1.7-million by Mr. Jacobson. (Mr. Skurka testified in court this summer that he received $1.2-million and the rest went to other lawyers on the defence team.)

Mr. Jacobson was accused of using his Tel Aviv-based credit card processing company to facilitate $126-million in illegal online pharmaceutical sales to U.S. customers through a company called Affpower. In his statement of defence, Mr. Skurka alleges his former client was actually the "covert financier" for Affpower and did not just provide credit card services.

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Mr. Skurka retained U.S. lawyers and Ms. Henein for legal advice. Ms. Henein received $110,000 for her services, court documents state. After his guilty plea, the court sealed Mr. Jacobson's file and put off his sentencing until 2012 because he was co-operating with U.S. officials, providing information about money laundering and the online pharmaceutical industry.

During this period, Mr. Jacobson was permitted to travel around the world and he met with senior intelligence officials in Canada and Israel. He also told Mr. Skurka he was enlisting Russian organized crime figures to help the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad disrupt Iran's nuclear weapons program, the documents allege.

He also raised money for federal Conservative candidates, and Mr. Skurka has testified that Mr. Jacobson told him was being considered as a candidate for Canadian ambassador to Israel. A photo taken in Ottawa in 2010 shows Mr. Jacobson smiling and standing between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The criminal case was made public in 2012, when Mr. Jacobson failed to show up for his sentencing. He then enlisted a U.S. lawyer, Michael Attanasio, to try to rescind his guilty plea.

Mr. Attanasio brought a motion before the U.S. court that accused Mr. Skurka of "ineffective assistance of counsel" and subjected him to vigorous cross-examination in related proceedings. He suggested the Toronto lawyer withered in the face of an attempt by the lead U.S. prosecutor to intimidate him and failed to get enough of the prosecution's evidence for Mr. Jacobson to properly instruct him on how to conduct his defence.

Mr. Skurka denied any wrongdoing and blamed the U.S. criminal justice process. "We were hammered by the fact, Ms. Henein and I, by the fact that there were different discovery rules than we had in Canada," Mr. Skurka testified.

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Because the guilty plea was thrown out, the judge did not need to rule on the actions of Mr. Jacobson's former legal team.

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