(Michael Chamas, left, former Conservative candidate Mustaque Sarker and former foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier (right) during 2008 Montreal fundraiser. APTN/File photo)
APTN National News
A probe by the elections watchdog into a $5,000 cash donation to a Montreal-area Conservative party riding association from a fugitive the RCMP alleges was the “banker” for a drug smuggling operation that moved marijuana through Akwesasne is inching closer to completion, APTN National News has learned.
The investigation, which has been slowly unfolding for the past three years and is now led by the Commissioner of Canada Elections, could soon be transferred to the federal Public Prosecution Service of Canada for a final determination on whether charges are warranted.
The Conservative government this year set up the commissioner’s office to enforce the Canada Elections Act.
The probe was triggered in 2012 by the NDP which filed a complaint with the elections watchdog following an APTN report which revealed that the Conservative riding association in Papineau received a $5,000 cash donation from Michael Chamas, a self-described international banker who left Canada following a police raid of his Montreal home which uncovered two unregistered handguns purchased in the U.S.
The donation was allegedly divided between five different people to avoid the $1,100 contribution limit in place at the time. The riding association initially tried to return $1,000 to Chamas, but he never cashed the cheque.
It is against election law to accept cash donations over $20.
The APTN investigation also discovered that former immigration minister Monte Solberg’s office issued a temporary ministerial permit to Chamas’ wife following an intervention from John Crosbie, a former Brian Mulroney-era cabinet minister and the former lieutenant governor of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The APTN investigation further revealed that John Reynolds, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s campaign co-chair in the 2006 federal election, was involved along with Crosbie and David Bernstein, a long-time Tory fundraiser, in a plan to buy the Laurentian Bank with Chamas’ financial backing.
Bernstein has since died.
The RCMP still has a warrant out for Chamas’ arrest, APTN has learned.
Chamas fled the country to avoid facing gun-related charges following a 2008 raid of his Montreal-area home.
The raid was part of the 2008 Operation Cancun which was executive by the Aboriginal Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit which targeted a marijuana smuggling organization that moved the contraband through Akwesasne and into the U.S.
Documents obtained by APTN show that the RCMP suspected Chamas of being the banker for the drug organization.
One of the men identified as Chamas’ business associates has since been convicted in the U.S. of money laundering related to an organization that moved marijuana into the U.S. and used proceeds from its sales to purchase cocaine from the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico which was later smuggled into Canada.
Chamas, also known as Mikhael J.S. Mezrahi or Mikhael Jaime Shamis Mezrahi, donated the cash during a fundraiser for former Conservative Papineau candidate Mustaque Sarker. The 2008 fundraiser was attended by former foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier, who is currently running for re-election.
This past May, Chamas told APTN in a WhatsApp message he was willing to speak with elections investigators about the probe, but he never followed through. APTN has since lost contact with Chamas, who now bills himself as the prime minister of the San Bernardino Principality which appears to be based on a volcanic island that recently surfaced in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen.
An agitated Sarker told APTN in an interview last week that he did nothing wrong.
“Everything has been spoken to authorities, everything is done, it has nothing to do with us,” said Sarker. “Don’t bother us. It is not my responsibility to answer these nonsense questions.”
The riding association’s former auditor Robert Guindon told APTN last week that the association did receive four or five cash donations, but he didn’t believe that it had ever been paid back.
“They accepted cash donations and the treasurer (of the association) wasn’t aware he wasn’t allowed to (receive it),” said Guindon, in an interview.
Guindon, whose Quebec City firm no longer audits riding associations, said he sent a report to the elections watchdog on the issue.
Chamas’ former executive assistant swore in a sealed affidavit that surfaced on-line that she was asked by certain Conservative “lobbyists” and “government advisors” to help the 2006 Harper campaign by “sponsoring events” and “raising funds.”
Cree also said she planted the guns found in Chamas’ house at the request of a Surete du Quebec police officer.
-Editors Note: Story was updated to clarify that it is the Commission of Canada Elections that investigates breaches under the Canada Elections Act.