By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
Forensic auditors investigating a northern Manitoba First Nation organization want its grand chief to step aside because he could “pose a threat” to their probe, according to a letter obtained by APTN National News.
Chiefs on Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak’s (MKO) executive committee requested Winnipeg firm Lazer Grant conduct a forensic audit of all the organization’s books citing concerns over Grand Chief David Harper’s financial management.
MKO is facing a nearly million dollar deficit and Harper has been accused of trying to obstruct the audit. Harper is also accused of spending MKO funds on personal expenses, including for car repairs, three guitars and plane tickets for his girlfriend.
The organization represents 30 northern Manitoba communities and many are among the poorest in the country.
In a letter to Kelvin Lynxleg, MKO’s interim executive director, Lazer Grant requested Harper turn over his laptop, cell phone and any other MKO-owned electronic devices. The firm said Harper should be put on a “non-functioning paid leave-of absence” until the forensic probe ends. The firm recommended Harper be banned from entering MKO’s premises, accessing the organization’s accounting information and communicating with suppliers and vendors.
Lazer Grant recommended Harper take a leave of absence because he posed a threat to the forensic audit, which had been hampered in the past by former staff members who turned over tampered electronic devices like their cell phones and laptops.
“We recommend that MKO determine any other individuals that are perceived to pose a threat to the ongoing investigation,” said the letter signed by David Glass, a partner with Lazer Grant, and dated Tuesday.
Lazer Grant recommended Harper also cease talking to the media.
MKO and Harper could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Based on Harper’s recent statements, it remains unclear whether he would be compliant with any such requests.
Harper conducted several media interviews last week to state he would ignore a resolution passed by chiefs at an MKO meeting in Norway House requesting he take a voluntary leave until the audit ended.
The resolution, which was passed last Wednesday, demanded Harper take the voluntary leave or face a non-confidence vote at the next MKO meeting in September.
In an interview with APTN National News, Harper said he did nothing wrong and expressed confidence he would be cleared.
Harper, who has been accused of obstructing the forensic audit in the past, denied he ever tried to interfere with investigators.
The forensic audit was originally launched last August to initially probe the contracts of a former director of finance who was paid $1.1 million between 2005 and 2011. Since then, chiefs on MKO’s executive council pushed to expand the forensic audit to include all the organization’s books, including those of its subsidiaries.
Documents obtained by APTN National News show MKO was warned by an outside auditor the federal Aboriginal Affairs department could put the organization into co-management or third –party management if it didn’t get its spending under control, especially around travel and consultants.
MKO’s accumulated deficit for the fiscal year ending on March 31, 2013, hit $976, 025. MKO also accumulated an operating deficit of $609,058 by March 31, 2013, which was a 71 per cent increase over the previous year’s operating deficit of $356,108.
MKO, which received a denial of opinion from an auditor because it lacked proper accounting of its spending, was also warned to include a paper trail around its credit card use.
Documents show that Harper used the organization’s money to pay for three guitars, car repairs, flights for his girlfriend and for members of a U.S.-based gospel music group to attend a jamboree, according to Visa statements and invoices obtained by APTN National News.
Harper said the guitars were a Christmas gift to someone and that the car repairs and flights for his girlfriend came out of his pay.