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RCMP probe Harb's expense claims on 'uninhabitable' home

Senator Mac Harb arrives to the East Block of Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 29, 2013. Media reports say the amount to be repaid by former Liberal senator Mac Harb over questionable expense claims has jumped to $231,000.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A rural Ontario house that Senator Mac Harb designated as his primary residence so he could claim living expenses in Ottawa was "largely uninhabitable" for three years due to demolition and renovation, and later was only 0.01 per cent owned by him, an RCMP investigator alleges.

A sworn RCMP affidavit made public on Thursday reveals the Mounties are investigating the senator for alleged breach of trust over travel and expense claims he submitted for nearly 10 years between 2003 and 2013.

The RCMP provided the information to an Ontario judge to obtain documents and data from the Senate on Mr. Harb's travel and expense submission during the time that he was claiming a home in Cobden, Ont., and then later, one in Westmeath, Ont., as his primary residence.

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Senators whose primary residences are more than 100 kilometres from Parliament Hill are allowed to claim living expenses to help cover the cost of staying in Ottawa for work.

"While he has owned homes in both Cobden and Westmeath, the investigation has shown that neither of those homes was his primary residence," RCMP Corporal Greg Horton wrote in the affidavit. "I believe he resides primarily in the [National Capital Region] and as such is not entitled to collect a housing allowance claiming that residence as 'secondary.' "

Cpl. Horton said in his affidavit that he thinks it was unlikely Mr. Harb or his family used the Cobden, house during the first three years after he purchased it in 2003.

"By all accounts, that house was largely uninhabitable for the first three years that he owned it due to demolition and reconstruction," the RCMP officer said.

Mr. Harb has not been charged, and the RCMP's allegations have not been proven in court.

Earlier this year, a Senate committee ordered Mr. Harb to repay about $51,000 in expense claims he had made over the past two years. He was told to return the money in May after independent auditors found that he spent more time in Ottawa than at the home he claimed at the time as his primary residence.

Mr. Harb agreed "under protest," but maintained the Senate's decision was illegal. He did not admit liability and has asked a court to quash the decision. Mr. Harb, a Liberal appointee to the Senate, has resigned from the Liberal caucus for the time being.

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Cpl. Horton said in his affidavit that he thinks it was unlikely Mr. Harb or his family used a Cobden, Ont. house during the first three years after he purchased it in 2003.

"By all accounts, that house was largely uninhabitable for the first three years that he owned it due to demolition and reconstruction," the RCMP officer said.

He said a neighbour who kept cattle on the property "seldom saw Harb at the house and often had to reset the electrical breaker in the basement so that his cattle could receive water from the well."

The RCMP officer alleged a well that could provide enough water to support a family was only installed at the residence in May, 2006.

"If the well couldn't support a family, it is unlikely that Harb used it as a primary residence up to that time."

The affidavit said Mr. Harb sold the house in 2007 to Magdalene Teo, who served as Brunei's high commissioner to Canada at the time.

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"[He] retained a .01 per cent interest in the house and continued to claim it as his primary residence until 2011, while collecting an allowance for his home in Ottawa."

Cpl. Horton said he's been unable to get a satisfactory explanation for the arrangement from Ms. Teo, who is "currently the Brunei ambassador to China."

Ms. Teo, he said, "has refused to speak to investigators about this situation and states that Harb paid the mortgage for her as 'rent' between 2007 and 2011."

"Without further details, this explanation lacks credibility," the Mountie said.

Mr. Harb later claimed a Westmeath, Ont. home as his primary residence. While one neighbour told RCMP that she does not believe the senator lives at the residence, another, the son of the woman who sold it to Mr. Harb, defended the senator. Leroy Behm told the Mounties that "people likely just don't see him because he arrives later in the evenings, and leaves early in the morning."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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