Alberta man hit with $20,000 fine for obstruction of election commissioner investigation

Bhupinder "Roger" Sarna has been fined $20,000 for obstructing an investigation by Alberta's election commissioner.

Penalty issued to Bhupinder 'Roger' Sarna as investigation into UCP leadership campaign continues

Jason Kenney, centre, celebrates his victory as the first official leader of the Alberta United Conservative Party with his opponent Brian Jean, right. The Election Commissioner later launched an investigation into Kenney's leadership campaign. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press )

An Edmonton man, Bhupinder "Roger" Sarna, has been fined $20,000 for obstructing an investigation by Alberta's election commissioner.

The details of the fine against Sarna are not known at this time.

A notice on the Elections Alberta website says Sarna "obstructed an investigation of the Election Commissioner, thereby committing a Corrupt Practice."

A message left for Sarna as well as a message for the lead investigator in the office of the election commissioner were not immediately returned on Friday.

Registry documents show a Bhupinder Sarna is listed as the owner of the Aria Banquet Hall in Edmonton and multiple posts online say the owner of the business is Roger Sarna. 

The banquet hall is tied to an ongoing election commissioner investigation into the 2017 United Conservative Party leadership contest. 

Tariq Chaudhry hosted two Eid events there for Jason Kenney.

The events happened in 2017, as Kenney was running for the leadership of the newly formed UCP, and in 2018, as he set his sights on the premier's office.

While the details of the fine against Sarna aren't known, details of Chaudhry's complaints are well established. 

Eid events, memberships

Chaudhry sent a letter of complaint to the election commissioner in December 2018, alleging he signed up hundreds of new party members to vote for Kenney as leader — and paid for many of their memberships, himself, in violation of party rules.

He also said in the letter he was never reimbursed for the banquets he was asked to organize. 

Receipts show he paid $21,076 to Aria Banquets for the two events: one in September 2017 and another in June 2018.

He also says he paid $6,000 out of his own pocket in membership fees for 600 of the 1,200 new members he signed up.

Chaudhry alleges in a sworn affidavit that he attempted to give the money for the members he signed up directly to Kenney at one of the events he hosted.

"Mr. Kenney asked the $6,000 I had be paid in cash and told me he would arrange from someone to pick up the same at my home at another time," he wrote. 

Party rules forbid paying for the memberships of others.

Chaudhry says Kenney and the party stopped returning his calls and texts after he hosted the second event. 

None of Chaudhry's allegations have been proven in court. 

Investigation into allegations

CBC News has confirmed an email was sent to Chaudhry at that time by Dave Jennings, an investigator at the office of the election commissioner.

"I've recently been assigned a file relating to your complaint to our office regarding Jason Kenney's campaign(s) in 2017 and 2018," reads the email, dated July 30, 2019.

"Specifically, the allegations are that he had you buy UCP memberships and put on events that were not properly paid back or claimed/expensed."

The email says Chaudhry is not under investigation.

The fine levelled against Sarna is the first indication of movement in the investigation into Chaudhry's allegations in months.

It's not the only ongoing investigation into Kenney's pursuit of the UCP leadership, nor the only one that features Chaudhry. 

Kamikaze campaign and voter fraud

The RCMP and the election commissioner continue to investigate both the "kamikaze" campaign of Jeff Callaway and allegations of voter fraud in the contest that elected Kenney leader. 

The commissioner's office, which was dismantled as a separate operation and folded into Elections Alberta by the UCP government this year, has levied over $200,000 in fines tied to the Callaway campaign.

It's alleged corporate money was funnelled into the campaign and distributed using other people's names. 

Callaway ran a "kamikaze" campaign on behalf of Jason Kenney, now Alberta's premier, running for the purpose of targeting Kenney's chief rival, former Wildrose leader Brian Jean, with political attacks and then dropping out of the race and endorsing Kenney.

Both men deny allegations of collusion between their leadership campaigns, but CBC News has obtained emails showing higher-ups in Kenney's campaign circle providing resources — strategic political direction, media and debate talking points, speeches, videos and attack advertisements — to the Callaway campaign.

There was a timeline for when Callaway would drop out of the campaign and throw his support behind Kenney.

Kenney's deputy chief of staff at the time, Matt Wolf, even emailed a resignation speech to Callaway the day he dropped out of the leadership race.

The investigation into voter fraud is focused on allegations that PIN numbers meant for individual party members to cast a ballot were diverted and used to cast bulk votes for Kenney to become leader.

Chaudhry told CBC News he worked at one of the voter "kiosks" set up by the Kenney campaign, where intercepted PINs were allegedly used by volunteers to cast votes. 

CBC News has confirmed that some fraudulent emails were used to vote in the leadership contest. 

The UCP has strenuously denied that any wrongdoing occurred during the vote. It has also said it cannot account for the actions of all volunteers.

Kenney won the leadership contest with 61.2 per cent of the vote. His closest rival, Jean, received 31.5 per cent.


Drew Anderson

Former CBC digital journalist

Drew Anderson was a digital journalist with CBC Calgary from 2015 to 2021 and is a third-generation Calgarian.