Wednesday, April 22, 2009

 

SCRATCHING THE SURFACE ON AIRBUS

Inquiry commission or not, I think most free-thinking Canadians made up their minds years ago over the good, bad and the ugly of Air Canada's purchase of Airbus jetliners in 1988.

It seems that's probably a darn good thing because very little light about the so-called "Airbus Scandal" has been shed so far by the Oliphant Inquiry grinding-on in Ottawa's former city hall building.

In about 12 days of hearings, Commissioner Jeffrey Oliphant has taken testimony from roughly half of the scheduled 20 or so witnesses scheduled to appear. There have been a couple of Airbus related juicy bits, but for the most part the Commission lawyers have focused attention on the alleged $300,000 payment to former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in the months after he left office on June 23, 1993. Mr. Mulroney has admitted taking that money, but everyone agrees that the payments relate to another of Karl Heinz Schreiber's projects: Bear Head Industries of Nova Scotia.

Although few and far between, the emerging tidbits about Airbus are nonetheless tantalizing: Pat McAdam was a confidant of Mr.Mulroney and a key member of the Prime Minister's office. He has confirmed Mr. Schreiber's evidence that Mr. Schreiber, who was accompanied by Frank-Josef Strauss, The Head of Airbus Industries, met with Mr. Mulroney in the Prime-Minister's office in 1988 shortly before the $1.8 billion deal with Air Canada was concluded. And, Paul Smith, Mulroney's Executive Assistant, says the former Prime-Minister held a private meeting with Karl Heiz Schreiber at 11:00 AM on the P.M.'s last day in office, June 23, 1998.

Like those Porky Pig cartoons of old; I am tempted here to say: "A Ba Da, A Ba Da: That's All Folks" - Because that's pretty much about all that has been heard over the Airbus Affair. Most Canadians expect the Oliphant Enquiry to cap, once and for all, the rumours, innuendos and stories related to the purchase of the 38 airliners by Air Canada when it was still a Crown Corporation. So far Commission lawyers have done little more than scratch at the surface of the mysterious deal. Perhaps they are a bit skittish because in the late 1990's Jean Chretien's government was forced to apologize and pay a couple of million dollars in damages to Mulroney over unproven allegations in this very same matter.

Mr. Mulroney himself when he testifies, and/or Mr. Schreiber when he is recalled as a witness next month, may be able to clarify these muddy waters. What little has so far been heard has not done much to explain why Airbus paid $650,000 per each airplane, close the $25-million, to International Aircraft Leasing, a shell company controlled by Karl Heinz Shreiber shortly after the Air Canada deal was concluded about 21 years ago....And: After all, isn't that what the inquiry is all about?

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