Former AHS executive defends expense claims
Allaudin Merali, the former Capital Health executive who claimed hundreds of thousands of dollars for meals at high-end restaurants, wine and a phone for his Mercedes Benz, feels he is being unfairly singled out for expenses that were incurred as part of his job.
In a written statement released to the media on Friday, Merali says that the expenses were for "legitimate travel and hosting".
"l cannot accept that my past expenses are held up to a different standard and reported in the media without context and without regard to simple fairness, so as to cast implicit doubts on my integrity," Merali said.
Merali was let go from his position as the executive vice-president and chief financial officer for Alberta Health Services in August, hours before CBC News was set to air an investigative story into his expenses from January 2005 to August 2008.
On Thursday, AHS released an external audit which found that $103,302 of the $370,000 in expenses did not have supporting documentation. However, that did not contravene Capital Health policy at the time.
The audit found that $5,613 of expenses — including $2,300 to install the phone in the car —were against policy.
In his statement, Merali said that none of the items he claimed benefitted him personally.
"The imputation that I simply lived a high life at the taxpayer's expense is an invention of sheer malice," he said.
"I was a senior host and negotiator of numerous partnerships, business deals and relationships of a $3 billion organization. I hosted appropriately, not for my own personal enjoyment."
Merali also said the expense claim for "butler services" was actually for workers at a catering company who served food at a reception held at his house.
"This is a common practice at the senior executive level, but the way it is reported is calculated to give a misleading impression," Merali said.
"In fact I generally under-reported the true cost of these functions by not expensing the general use of my home or cooking and any additional food provided by my wife."
The AHS audit also found that $5,100 of $234,948 claimed by four executives who worked for the former Calgary Health Region were non-compliant.
Stephen Lockwood, the chairman of Alberta Health Services, attributed them to "oversights or clerical mistakes" and that the individuals followed the standards of the time. Merali believes that he should have been given the same consideration.
"I think this comment is fair, and it would also be a fair comment on my own expenses," he writes. "The standards today at AHS are tighter, and I was fully committed to abiding by those standards when I was hired as chief financial officer of AHS.