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April 17, 2005
Adscam: Canadians Probably Won't Get Much Satisfaction

For those who have followed the explosive developments in Canada's Sponsorship Program corruption case and the spectacular testimony, an expectation that the money-laundering conspiracy would result in wholesale criminal convictions across a wide swath of the political class would be reasonable. However, as Greg Weston points out in today's Ottawa Sun, most of the crimes committed no longer qualify for prosecution -- meaning that the con men at the middle of Adscam will likely escape any punishment at all:

Don't expect a parade of Adscam players being marched off to jail, either. While Brault and two others are facing criminal fraud charges, time has wiped out any chance of nailing others with violations of election and lobbying laws.

The Gomery inquiry has so far heard from a dozen witnesses who broke election laws -- passing political cash around in brown paper bags does not exactly conform to federal political financing rules.

But an official at Elections Canada indicates there is nothing the government can do to prosecute the Adscammers -- under the old election financing laws in place during the sponsorship program, violators had to be prosecuted within 18 months.

The same applies to the numerous Gomery witnesses who have admitted they broke federal lobbying laws while they were out twisting arms in government for sponsorship cash.

A joke at the best of times, the lobbying laws don't even apply to AdScam -- the statute of limitations is two years.

This may become an issue during the next election. The original investigations into Adscam started a couple of years ago, but were halted when the Liberals switched tactics and demanded an independent inquiry instead of the Commons hearings. If that delay helped protect the guilty from criminal prosecution -- and I'm not clear that it did or didn't -- expect Stephen Harper and the Tories to point that out during the campaign.

Weston believes that much more promise may come from an independent financial audit from the same forensic accounting team that plumbed the depths of the Enron scandal. Insiders have told Weston that after going through the financial records of everyone involved in Adscam, including the front businesses and the subcontractors, the bagmen and the recipients of their cash, and of course the Liberal Party, they have a good idea who wound up with the lion's share of the money.

They promise that the audit contains "pure political dynamite" -- and that report will come to the Gomery Inquiry in the next few weeks. Canadians might even see some of the money returned, if it still exists in liquid form, but more likely will be tax-fraud charges that might survive the statute of limitations that prevent Adscammers from facing the consequences of their graft.

If that doesn't work, however, expect to see an enraged electorate become even more disenchanted with the current Liberal government, whether or not Gomery finds direct connections between current PM Paul Martin and the Adscammers. Their delay may well have allowed Liberal cronies to escape any legal consequences for their money-laundering on behalf of the Liberals, old guard or new, and Canadian voters may still have enough outrage in reserve to punish them further for manipulating the system to that effect.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 17, 2005 11:17 AM

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