Canada's ex-justice minister has said the prime minister's inner circle tried to pressure her into helping a Montreal-based firm in a graft case. The opposition urged a police probe with Trudeau dodging calls to resign.
Canadian opposition asked the federal police to investigate possible political meddling by Justin Trudeau's government in a corruption case on Thursday. Previously, Trudeau's former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould accused Trudeau and his senior aids of "hounding" and pressuring her not to prosecute Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin company.
"I experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, in an inappropriate effort to secure a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin," ex-minister Jody Wilson-Raybould told the House of Commons.
Wilson-Raybould added that she received "veiled threats" from Michael Wernick, Canada's top bureaucrat, that "a collision with the prime minister on these matters should be avoided."
Trudeau responded that he "completely disagrees with the former attorney general's characterization of events."
The lawmakers are due to hold an emergency debate on the scandal on Thursday.
Firm bribed Gadhafi government
The scandal has rocked the Trudeau administration as the Liberal party leader prepares to run for re-election in October. It centers around allegations that SNC-Lavalin bribed officials in the Libyan government under strongman Muammar Gadhafi between 2001 and 2011.
The company was formally charged with corruption in 2015, with prosecutors saying that it had paid Gadhafi's regime 130 million Canadian dollars (US$99 million) for lucrative government contracts, including the Great Man-Made River Project, the biggest irrigation project in history.
SNC-Lavalin heavily lobbied the government to settle the corruption case out of court. The firm has repeatedly claimed that anyone responsible for the wrongdoing has since left the company.
'Serious red flags'
Wilson-Raybould testified that "the prime minister asked me to help out, to find a solution for SNC, citing that if there is no DPA (deferred prosecution agreement), there would be many jobs lost and that SNC would move from Montreal."
She said 11 other top officials, including Finance Minister Bill Morneau, raised concerns that the firm would move to London if it did not face favorable legal conditions in Canada.
They "urged me to take partisan political considerations into account, which was clearly improper," she said, adding that while "not illegal," it had "raised serious red flags."
Wilson-Raybould resigned in January, along with Trudeau's longtime ally and principal secretary Gerry Butts, who has been vague about his reasons for leaving the government.
Freeland closes ranks with Trudeau
Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer said that the prime minister should step down over the scandal, claiming Trudeau "can no longer and in good standing with a clear conscience lead this nation." He also called for a federal investigation into the possibility that government officials obstructed justice.
"The matter at hand appears, on its face, to be a gross violation of the law," Scheer wrote in a letter to federal police.
Trudeau disputed the nature of the discussions in a news conference, saying that "our government will always focus on jobs" and that his administration was merely debating the impact the case could have on the company's Montreal workforce.
In an unusual move, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland appeared at Canada's CBC broadcaster to pledge her full support to the 47-year-old prime minister.
"Of course I support the prime minister 100 percent," said the popular minister, whom some see as a possible successor of Trudeau.
"I am very clearly of the view that the prime minister would never apply improper pressure," she added.
es/jil (AFP, Reuters)