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RCMP probes Senator Mac Harb over business trips to Bangladesh

Mac Harb was appointed to the Senate in 2003 by Jean Chretien.

FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS/FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The RCMP is investigating Liberal Senator Mac Harb for criminal breach of trust, alleging in a sworn affidavit that he travelled to Bangladesh on a special passport reserved for federal officials, where he lobbied members of the country's government on behalf of Niko Resources, a Calgary-based oil and gas company.

For nearly four years, a team of Mounties has been investigating Niko Resources' natural-gas operation in Bangladesh, and on Friday, the company agreed to pay a fine of $9.5-million after pleading guilty to trying to influence a junior Bangladeshi minister by providing him with a luxury SUV as well as a paid trip to Calgary and New York.

What didn't emerge in court, however, is that police are probing Mr. Harb, a former member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre.

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The Mounties allege his travels to Bangladesh were "for a purpose other than the public good." Mr. Harb has not been charged with a crime. He did not respond to repeated requests for an interview prior to publication of this story in Saturday's Globe and Mail, but he has been questioned by the police. However, on Saturday he released this statement.

In a statement, Niko said that it retained Mr. Harb only in a personal capacity, and "not as a Senator." The company said it paid him $65,000 for work done between September, 2005 and July, 2006.

"The company inquired and was advised by Mr. Harb that he had obtained all of the necessary approvals from the Senate Ethics Committee to be able to carry out this engagement," the company's statement said.

RCMP Corporal Kevin Duggan has alleged in a sworn affidavit that between 2004 and 2006, Mr. Harb travelled to Dhaka at least four times to lobby Bangladeshi officials about a dispute over natural-gas payments - despite warnings from Canada's diplomatic corps that he was not welcome. Specifically, a former high commissioner to Bangladesh told the Mounties that because Mr. Harb was "personally involved with the company" his trips were "not good for the image of Canada."

The 72-page affidavit, which was obtained by The Globe and Mail after a year-long legal battle with the Alberta Justice Department and Niko, was released this week but, by the order of Mr. Justice William Tilleman of Alberta's Court of Queen's Bench, it was heavily redacted.

Mr. Harb's name has been redacted from the sworn affidavit, but The Globe has independently confirmed that he was the target of the production order obtained by the Mounties in December, 2009. The order required a Calgary office of the Bank of Nova Scotia to hand over all of its files related to a bank account, a line of credit, as well as a mortgage.

Senators are allowed to take outside employment, sometimes as directors of companies or with law firms, but they are forbidden from trading on their public position for personal gain. The Conflict of Interest Code for Senators, which was adopted in May, 2005, states that they "may not act in any way to further their private interests, or those of their family, or to improperly further another person's or entity's private interests when performing parliamentary duties and functions."

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The Criminal Code also prohibits someone from using public office for personal gain.

In his affidavit, Cpl. Duggan highlighted Mr. Harb's alleged private use of a Government of Canada Special Passport - something only senators and MPs carrying out official overseas functions are entitled to - for at least two of his trips to Bangladesh, one in October, 2005 and one in April, 2006. He concludes that it was a "misuse of a public document issued to [him]solely for official travel." The Mountie also concludes that Mr. Harb's "lobbying efforts on behalf of a corporation which allegedly used bribes to secure advantages in its business prejudiced Canada's interests for the benefit of a corporation engaged in unlawful behaviour."

The affidavit does not outline how the senator connected with the oil and gas company, which has exploded from a junior on the Alberta Stock Exchange into a major player with a market capitalization of $3.3-billion. In 2002, when Mr. Harb was still a member of Parliament and serving as the chair of the international trade committee, he was part of a delegation of Canadian officials that travelled to Dhaka to meet with members of the Bangladeshi government. Niko's founder, the late Robert Ohlson, was present for that trip. At the time, Mr. Ohlson was seeking a joint-venture agreement with Bangladesh's state-owned gas company.

According to a speech given during that trip by former MP David Kilgour, who was acting as secretary of state (Asia Pacific) at the time, both Mr. Ohlson and Mr. Harb were present for an event at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

According to Cpl. Duggan's affidavit, officials from Foreign Affairs warned Mr. Harb against his lobby missions, but the senator said he had spoken with someone, whose name was redacted, who advised him that he wasn't in a conflict of interest.

On one of Mr. Harb's last trips to the country, the then Canadian high commissioner to Bangladesh was so infuriated that she confronted him at his hotel. She told investigators that she was "not happy" that Mr. Harb "had actually met with the [Bangladeshi]Minister of Foreign Affairs at his home, at night without me, and without me being aware of the meeting." The former high commissioner speculated to the RCMP that Mr. Harb had been enlisted by the company because he was "known to the players, respected and had influence."

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In its statement, Niko said that its hiring of Mr. Harb was investigated by the authorities. The Crown attorney's office determined that no charges against the company were warranted, the statement said.

Mr. Harb, a loyal supporter of former prime minister Jean Chrétien, served as an MP for 15 years. His appointment to the Senate was announced in September, 2003, not long before Mr. Chrétien left public office.

During his many years on Parliament Hill, Mr. Harb has been a fierce advocate for niche causes, but has taken unorthodox positions that are out of step with those of his own party. In 2009, he failed to find a single colleague who would second his proposed bill to ban the annual Atlantic Canada seal hunt. In 2003, he told the Ottawa Citizen he wanted to personally travel to Saudi Arabia and investigate William Sampson - a Canadian who was tortured by Saudi authorities - because he was suspicious of Mr. Sampson's claims of wrongful imprisonment. While sitting in as a guest host on an Ottawa talk radio show in 2001, he told listeners that he believed human clones existed somewhere on Earth.

With files from Daniel Leblanc

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About the Author
National reporter

Greg has been a reporter with The Globe since 2005. He has probed a wide variety of topics, including police malfeasance, corruption and international corporate bribery. He was written extensively about the Airbus affair, offshore tax evasion and, most recently, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his criminal ties. More

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