By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The grand chief of Manitoba Keeewatinowi Okimakanak, which represents some of the poorest communities in Canada, bought three guitars on his organization’s dime, according to documents obtained by APTN National News.
MKO Grand Chief David Harper also used the organization’s money to pay for car repairs, flights for his girlfriend and for members of a U.S.-based gospel music group to attend a jamboree, according to Visa statements and invoices obtained by APTN National News.
Harper is already facing controversy over plans to raise money for the upcoming Assembly of First Nations national chief election, which MKO is hosting in Winnipeg, by awarding clan designations to sponsors. MKO is in the midst a forensic audit launched by the organization’s executive council of chiefs to get clarity on the level of financial turmoil within the organization.
Harper has rejected interview requests from APTN National News.
Chiefs who are members of MKO have expressed concerns Harper is using the organization’s money for personal expenses and causes.
An MKO-member chief speaking on condition of anonymity said that these “are questionable financial transactions and irregularities … and require immediate attention.”
An invoice submitted to MKO from Winnipeg music store St. John’s Music shows Harper purchased three guitars for $821 using MKO’s money. The three acoustic guitars, two Yamahas and a Fender, where purchased Dec. 16, 2012, from St. John’s Music in Winnipeg.
Harper, who is also an amateur gospel musician, also allegedly used MKO’s Royal Bank Visa Business platinum Avion card to pay for five $1,404 flights for members of U.S. gospel group Singing Cookes in June 2011, according to the credit card statement, obtained by APTN National News.
The July 2011 statement also shows the credit card was twice used at a Winnipeg Mac’s convenience store for purchases totaling $361, but there is no documentation detailing the reasons for the spending.
MKO was warned in August 2013 by an independent Winnipeg accountant that it needed to establish a paper trail for use of the organization’s Visa card. The warning was contained in a report by Bernie Shore to MKO explaining he couldn’t conduct an audit of MKO’s books because the organization lacked documentation for many of its transactions.
“There were several payments and charges on MKO Visa made during the year that were not supported by actual invoices or evidence of the purpose,” stated Shore in a report dated August 2013. “Without an actual invoice and details of the purpose, evidence does not exist that the amount paid was a legitimate expenditure relating to MKO business.”
The documents obtained by APTN National News also show MKO resources were used to pay for Ottawa-Winnipeg flights for Harper’s girlfriend Belinda Beardy on at least three occasions.
MKO resources were also used to pay Northland Ford for repairs to Harper’s vehicle on at least three occasions, according to hand-written invoices. One invoice, dated May 16, 2012, is for $500, the other from May 29, 2012, is for three payments of $750 and the third invoice is from July 10, 2012, and is for $1,231.
APTN National News also learned MKO picked up the tab for Beardy so she could accompany Harper on a trip to London, England, in October 2013 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763.
Harper flew to London with a delegation including former War Lake Chief Betsey Kennedy and Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation councillor D’Arcy Linklater. They were accompanied by three traditional dancers and two support staff. Linklater’s trip was paid by the Treaty Commission’s office.
Harper assured MKO’s executive committee of chiefs that the cost of the $30,727 trip would be covered by fundraising. MKO, however, ended up paying for $18,227 of the total after Harper managed to raise only $12,500 for the trip.
MKO chiefs are meeting in Norway House First Nation on Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s expected MKO chiefs will be presented with a forensic audit on MKO’s books. The forensic audit report will reveal that laptops and cell phones were tampered with before they were handed over to auditors conducting the investigation, according to a copy obtained by APTN National News.
The forensic audit, conducted by Lazer Grant Inc., will also reveal MKO paid Glenn Buchko, the former director of finance, $1.1 million between 2005 and 2011.
“Based on our review of available documentation, MKO administrative and financial regulations were not followed during the approval of contracts,” sated the forensic report.
Harper is also facing allegations he tried to obstruct the forensic audit, which is still ongoing.