Dr. Arthur Porter's wife calls herself 'pawn' in fraud case
Pamela Porter goes to jail to speed trial in $22.5M McGill hospital kickback case
The wife of accused fraudster Dr. Arthur Porter appeared in a Montreal courtroom this afternoon on new charges of misusing the proceeds of crime.
Pamela Porter’s charges are in relation to an alleged $22.5-million kickback scheme over the McGill University Health Centre's new superhospital.
Arthur Porter is accused of accepting an $11.25-million bribe to award the contract for the new superhospital to the engineering and construction firm SNC-Lavalin. She's accused of helping him launder that money.
Police also say some of the $250,000 bail money raised by her notary, after she was arrested last year, came through one of the family's suspect bank accounts.
Porter surrendered herself to police in Montreal this morning.
Her court appearance lasted a couple of minutes, where she waived her right to bail.
"That means that Mrs. Porter will remain in custody until the end of the proceedings,” said Crown prosecutor Marie-Hélène Giroux.
Porter is expected back in court on Sept. 15.
A "pawn" in the scheme
In an exclusive interview with CBC News, Porter said that she is a "pawn" in the alleged kickback scheme.
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Porter and her husband were arrested in late May of last year while travelling from their home in the Bahamas through Panama. She spent almost 10 weeks in Panamanian and Quebec jails before getting out on bail, while her husband is fighting extradition and remains in Panama's infamous La Joya prison.
The Porters are two of eight charged in the biggest fraud investigation in Canadian history, the alleged $22.5-million kickback from SNC-Lavalin to secure the $1.4-billion contract to build the Montreal super-hospital that is due to open next spring. Porter was not only head of Canada's spy watchdog agency at the time but also CEO of the MUHC.
"I feel as a pawn in this whole game," Pamela Porter says, noting that other co-accused have been allowed to return to Britain and the Bahamas to await trial. "Maybe my being detained here is a way to get my husband to come back. I don't know what they're thinking. This is a horrible situation for myself and my family."
Husband's alleged fraud 'beyond comprehension'
Porter has been stuck in Montreal for more than a year awaiting trial on charges of conspiracy and money laundering, for her alleged role in moving money at her husband's behest. The provincial police, the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) believe SNC-Lavalin kickback money went directly through Arthur Porter's company Sierra Asset Management.
Police say half of that went to Yanai Elbaz, a hospital colleague of Porter, while the other half was sprinkled directly into Porter family accounts.
"If [Arthur's] guilty, why would everything have been so out in the open?" she said. "Surely, he's smart. He's the smartest person I know. If he wanted to commit a crime, nothing about this would have been easy. This paper trail [of the money]. Nothing was hidden. Why?
"It's beyond my comprehension that the man I've known for more than 32 years would be capable of this."
Porter says her husband told her the money was coming for consulting work he was doing with SNC-Lavalin in his native Sierra Leone. Quebec police investigator Jean-Frédéric Gagnon has produced documents at the Charbonneau commission — which is looking into provincial and municipal corruption in Quebec — showing a contract between Porter and SNC-Lavalin for work in North Africa. However, Gagnon also produced a graphic of a money trail that shows SNC-Lavalin payments investigators deemed as kickbacks.
When CBC News asked Porter if she didn't think something was odd when so much money was being shifted, she said she had no idea of the scope of it until she heard the $22.5 million figure in the media.
"The amount of money I was told about was far less and much more in keeping with my husband's talents as a successful businessman," she said.
The danger of forwarding emails
Freedom, she says, "can be taken away from you in an instant—for forwarding emails. I'm pretty sure that's something most people don't think about. Your husband just says, ‘Can you sign this, can you send this,' and look what happened."
She doesn't know why her husband is fighting extradition. She hasn't spoken to him since shortly after her arrest.
Porter met her husband at Cambridge University. They immigrated to Edmonton in 1984 and spent time in London, Ont. before Dr. Porter took over the Detroit hospital network in 1991. In 2005, a year after he took the job in Montreal, the family moved to the Bahamas, and Porter visited on weekends. The two younger daughters remain there, while the two older ones are in the United States.
"Did he use me to do this?" she mused. "I believe in my heart that he didn't do anything wrong. Unfortunately, as time goes by, and he's not returning to Canada … it becomes a situation I just don't know what to believe any more.
"The press is making me doubt him."
Is Arthur Porter fighting lung cancer?
One thing she doesn't have doubts about is the seriousness of the cancer he is fighting. She is a trained radiation technician who has seen his CT scans. If his lung cancer were a scam, as some have suggested, she says it would involve several distinguished members of the medical profession.
Her oldest daughter Gemma, who was visiting her mother before her return to jail, added: "It's really difficult to try to just keep going, when people say things in the paper about maybe he doesn't have cancer, saying it's ‘self-diagnosed.' When a family who's dealing with a family member who is battling cancer, that's hard enough. But when people are saying it might not even be real, that's like saying my pain is not real."
But if her father is the fraudster the criminal charges allege, is it possible his cancer diagnosis is a fraud on his family?
"Absolutely not," Gemma responded. "I have no doubt in my mind. I wish it was not true."
As for her mother being in trouble with the law, the four daughters find it absurd, said Gemma. Her mother has one speeding ticket — going 35 in a 25 zone —and won't even jaywalk.
"My mom is a mom like any other mom out there. We're a family just like any other family out there. I don't think people see it that way."
As for going back to jail, none of Porter's daughters want her to go.
"If by going back to prison forces an issue, and brings a trial sooner rather than later, which will hopefully allow me to get back to my children, I'll do it," she said.
"I'll do it for my girls and my family."
Any tips on this or other stories, please send to John Nicol and Dave Seglins.