RCMP allege Senator Mac Harb claimed expenses on 'uninhabitable' home
Published Thursday, July 25, 2013 9:59PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, July 25, 2013 11:05PM EDT
OTTAWA – Senator Mac Harb set up an elaborate, long-term scheme to cheat taxpayers, which allowed him to pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraudulent housing and living expenses claimed on an “uninhabitable” home, RCMP allege in an affidavit filed in court on Thursday.
The document lays out for the first time the Mounties’ criminal case against the former Liberal senator, who is being investigated for allegations of breach of trust.
Three months after Harb was named to the Senate in September 2003, he purchased a home in Cobden, Ont. The town is 123 kilometres from Ottawa, which entitles Harb to collect housing and living expenses from the Senate. (Senators can claim an annual allowance of up to $22,000 if their primary residence is more than 100 kilometres outside of Parliament Hill.)
But the RCMP allege he never lived in Cobden.
“Harb lived in Ottawa when he was appointed to the Senate, and it was only in December 2003 that he purchased a house in Cobden and claimed it as his primary residence," wrote lead investigator RCMP Cpl. Greg Horton.
"By all accounts, that house was largely uninhabitable for the first three years that he owned it due to demolition and reconstruction," he said.
The RCMP wrote that Harb’s neighbours – Larry Mulligan and Lisa Clark – rented the pasture land at the property prior to Harb buying the home, and continued to do so for three or four years after Harb’s purchase.
“He did not live there, no he didn't. It was apparent he didn't live there, just because he was never there,” Clark told CTV News.
Clark kept cattle on Harb’s pasture, and she said she often had to reset the electrical breaker in the basement so that his cattle could receive water from the well.
“The house was prone to being hit by lightning just because it's up on a hill, so when there was a storm, quite often it would throw the breakers,” she explained. “All the electrical was in the house, so we would go in . . . and set the breakers straight and the well would work again.”
Harb “wasn't there to do it,” Clark said, adding that Harb had given her his cell phone number in Ottawa if they needed to reach him.
The RCMP noted that if anyone was living in that home, they would have reset the breaker themselves.
Mounties also wrote that a new drinking water well wasn’t installed until May 2006, since the old well couldn’t support a family living in that home.
“If the well couldn’t support a family, it is unlikely that Harb used it as a primary residence up to that time,” Horton wrote.
RCMP investigators interviewed close to a dozen people in and around the Cobden area last month as part of its criminal probe.
A cleaner hired by Harb to clean his Cobden home told the RCMP that “it took her a week to clean the residence as it was quite dirty with dust and dead flies,” the investigator noted. “She did not believe the residence had been lived in for some time.”
An insurance agent who visited the home in 2007 gave police these notes: “House doesn’t have much furniture. . . . House needs a good cleaning. A lot of bird s--t in the basement. A lot of mouse traps have been set. . . . Not lived in full time.”
Harb owned 0.01 per cent of the home
In October 2007, Harb sold 99.99 per cent of the ownership of the Cobden home to Magdalene Teo, then the Brunei high commissioner to Canada. Harb maintained a 0.01 per cent of the stake in the property, but still claimed it as his primary residence so he can continue to collect a Senate housing allowance.
The RCMP says “additional investigation will be conducted” on this unusual transaction.
“The relationship between Teo and Harb has not been determined by investigators on my team, nor is it clear why Harb maintained a .01% interest in the residence,” the affidavit said.
Teo, who is now the Brunei ambassador to China, refused to meet with or speak to RCMP investigators.
“Teo has refused to speak to investigators about this situation, and states that Harb paid the mortgage for her as ‘rent’ between 2007 and 2011,” the RCMP wrote. “Without further details, this explanation lacks credibility.”
Harb sold the Cobden home in 2011 after buying a house in nearby Westmeath, Ont., which is also more than 100 kilometres away from Parliament Hill. He declared this as his primary residence with the Senate, again allowing him to claim the $22,000 per year housing allowance.
One neighbour who spoke with RCMP investigators alleges Harb was “seldom seen” in Westmeath and was “not part of the community.” One Westmeath mail carrier told police there “has never been any mail addressed to Harb’s residence until recently,” but it couldn’t be delivered because Harb doesn’t have a mailbox.
Thursday’s details were contained in a production order, or a court order to turn over information, seeking records and billing statements from the Senate related to Harb’s expense claims.
The Mounties have requested all of Harb’s cellphone and corporate credit card records from the Senate since September 2003, when Harb was appointed to the Red Chamber.
Harb is one of three senators being investigated by the RCMP.
The RCMP laid out its criminal case in June against Sen. Mike Duffy, who is being investigated for allegations of breach of trust and fraud against the government.
Sen. Patrick Brazeau is being probed for similar offences to Harb.