(Former Conservative Papineau candidate Mustaque Sarker (left), Michael Chamas (centre) and David Bernstein on Jan 15, 2008. APTN/Photo)
By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
An Elections Canada probe into a $5,000 cash donation to a Conservative riding association in Montreal has been slowed by the death of a party fundraiser, according to the office of the NDP’s ethics critic.
NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice asked Elections Canada this past April to probe a $5,000 cash donation to the Papineau Conservative riding association from a fugitive businessman the RCMP alleges acted as “the banker” for a cross-border marijuana smuggling network in the Mohawk communities of Akwesasne and Kahnawake.
Boulerice’s office says it was recently told by Elections Canada that the agency’s investigation of their complaint has been hampered by the death of one of the individuals linked to the file.
“They said the file is being studied, but considering that one of the persons is dead, it is taking more time,” said an official in Boulerice’s office. “(EC) said it is a normal delay.’
The donation came from Michael Chamas, a Lebanese-born Canadian businessman who is currently on the run from Canadian authorities after skipping a Quebec court appearance last fall.
Chamas allegedly made the $5,000 donation on January 15, 2008, to Mustaque Sarker, the Conservative candidate at the time for the Montreal riding of Papineau. The cash was handed over during a fundraiser at the Ruby Rouge restaurant featuring Minister of State for Small Business Maxime Bernier, who was then foreign affairs minister.
David Bernstein, a well-connected Conservative fundraiser who ran for the Tories in the late 1970s and in 1980, acted as Sarker’s official agent at the time of the donation. Bernstein died from cancer last year.
Boulerice’s complaint followed an APTN National News report on the donation. Sarker told APTN National News he knew about the $5,000 cash donation and that $4,000 of the total was split and registered under several different names.
Chamas’ donation would contravene two sections of the Elections Act which, in 2008, limited the amount one person can donate to a political party to $1,100, and forbids listing contributions under the names of individuals other than those who actually donated the money.
Boulerice also asked Elections Canada to investigate why no donations where registered on the date of the fundraiser.
In its financial filings with Elections Canada, the Papineau Conservative riding association lists five identical donations of $775.24 all dated on Jan. 14, 2008. Under the Elections Act, donations must be dated on the same day received.
“Those five donations of $775.24 totaled $3,876.20 which is close to the $4,000 that was claimed by (Sarker) as being accepted,” wrote Boulerice I his letter to the electoral agency.
It is also against the Elections Act to accept cash donations over $20.
Before becoming a wanted man
Before becoming a wanted man, Chamas was working his way into Conservative power circles. During a raid on his home, police found documents linking him to current Newfoundland and Labrador Lt.-Gov. John Crosbie and former Conservative MP John Reynolds, the Conservative election campaign co-chair in 2006 and co-chair of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s leadership run in 2004.
During the 2008 fundraiser, Sarker introduced Chamas as a “successful businessman, kind-hearted human being who cares for others.”
Chamas also posed for photographs with Bernier during the event and presented him a gift box containing a golf-shirt, hat and pen emblazoned with the name of one of his companies, Global Village.
Three months later, police raided Chamas’ home as part of Operation Cancun which dismantled a drug smuggling ring that moved marijuana through the Mohawk territories of Kahnawake and Akwesasne and into the U.S.
Police alleged that Chamas acted as “the banker” for the organization.
Chamas denies any links to drugs and claims he’s been persecuted by the Conservative government.
Police found two hand-guns inside Chamas’ home.
Police also found documents linking Chamas to Reynolds and Crosbie. The documents dealt with a planned deal to purchase the Quebec-based Laurentian Bank and Chamas’ tax problems.
Reynolds has denied any direct links to Chamas and told APTN National News to speak to Crosbie about the issue.
Crosbie said he did try to help Chamas on his tax issues with Revenue Canada in his capacity as a lawyer, but it happened before Harper appointed him as lieutenant-governor.
Crosbie told APTN National News the plan to buy the bank came from Bernstein.
Crosbie wrote then immigration minister Monte Solberg asking to keep Chamas’ wife in Canada. Shortly after Solberg’s office received the letter, Chamas’ wife was given a temporary residence permit to stay in Canada, where she remained for two years until she was finally kicked out of the country.
Crosbie said he wrote the letter at Bernstein’s request.
Chamas, who claims to be living in Dubai, was recently involved in a bid to buy a bankrupt Mexican airline.