(Michael Chamas (left), Mustaque Sarker (centre), and Maxime Bernier (right) during Jan. 15, 2008, fundraiser. APTN/File)
By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The federal NDP asked Elections Canada Thursday to probe a $5,000 cash donation to the Conservative party from a fugitive businessman the RCMP believes acted as “the banker” for a cross-border marijuana smuggling network.
The donation came from Michael Chamas, a Lebanese-born Canadian businessman who is currently on the run from Canadian authorities after skipping a court appearance last fall in Quebec.
Chamas is facing gun charges stemming from raids executed during Operation Cancun, a multi-police force investigation aimed at disrupting a smuggling network using Mohawk reserves to move Quebec-grown marijuana to New York City.
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.
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.
Chamas and Sarker both confirmed the donation in interviews with APTN National News.
The complaint was submitted by Quebec MP and NDP deputy ethics critic Alexandre Boulerice who said the contribution appeared to contravene several sections of the Elections Act.
“If you have not already started an investigation into this matter, I ask that you commence one to ensure that no illegal donations were received, no contribution limits were exceeded and that all legislation was followed,” wrote Boulerice.
Boulerice’s complaint centres on statements Sarker made to APTN National News confirming he knew about the $5,000 cash donation and that $4,000 of the total was split and registered under several different names.
The riding association returned a $1,000 cheque to Chamas after newspapers reported in May 2008 that the RCMP discussed the businessman’s presence at the fundraiser with Bernier’s staff. Chamas said he never cashed the cheque.
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 asks Elections Canada to investigate why no donations where registered on the Jan. 15, 2008, 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.
It is also against the Elections Act to accept cash donations over $20.
When contacted by telephone Thursday, Sarker refused to discuss the issue.
“Thanks for the information, but I have no knowledge whatsoever,” said Sarker, before hanging up.
Chamas said in an email he would “absolutely” cooperate with the elections watchdog, but it remains unclear how he could considering he’s out of the country avoiding a bench warrant for his arrest. Chamas said he is currently in Dubai and can be reached “anytime.”
Sarker was more forthcoming last fall when APTN National News initially contacted him about the money. Sarker confirmed his riding association received the cash, but said it was handled by David Bernstein, a well-connected Conservative fundraiser who ran for the Tories in the late 1970s and in 1980. Bernstein acted as Sarker’s official agent at the time. Bernstein died from cancer last year.
Sarker also admitted that the remainder of Chamas’ $4,000 contribution was registered under at least four different names. Sarker said his financial agent at the time would have all the details. The telephone number he provided, however, was disconnected.
“We already issued the official receipt, we have to give a refund (to Chamas) and four receipts of $1,000 was issued and one copy was sent to (Elections Canada). It was done properly,” said Sarker, last fall. “The money was given from David and we gave to the association financial agent.”
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. Chamas’ former assistant, a Mohawk woman named Juanita Cree, claimed in an affidavit filed in Quebec court last April that she planted the guns at the request of a Surete du Quebec police officer.
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.
Revenue Canada had put a $1.8 million on Chamas’ home in Lorrain, Que., which has since been seized along with his $200,000 Rolls Royce and over $700,000 in two CIBC bank accounts.
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 was before Harper appointed him as lieutenant-governor. Crosbie also told APTN National News the plan to buy the bank came from Bernstein.
Crosbie also went to bat for Chama’s wife, Brigitte Garas, who was facing expulsion from Canada in 2006. 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.