Naresh Bhardwaj leaves cabinet amid bribery allegations
Tory MLA accused of attempting to influence constituency nomination process
Edmonton-Ellerslie MLA Naresh Bhardwaj has left cabinet while the Conservative party investigates allegations of attempts to undermine another candidate’s nomination campaign, says Alberta Premier Jim Prentice.
"Obviously, as leader of the party, I want to make sure that those allegations are investigated and we are looking into them," Prentice told reporters Friday. "I have not received a report in terms of where they stand or what they have found."
Prentice said he spoke with Bhardwaj, the associate minister for persons with disabilities, earlier today.
Bhardwaj did not respond to interview requests from CBC News but released a written statement Friday afternoon.
"I vehemently deny the entire substance of these matters," he said. "I have engaged legal counsel and I have filed a statement of claim. I intend to completely clear my name."
"To this end, I will co-operate fully with the PC Party investigation which is ongoing on this matter."
Bhardwaj will remain in caucus until the internal investigation is completed.
"I have offered to step away from the cabinet table, both so that there is no inappropriate reflection of this matter on my cabinet colleagues, and so that I have maximum time to work on these matters with my legal counsel."
As first reported by Metro newspapers earlier this week, party member Balbir Sidhu publicly accused Bhardwaj of offering him, through another person, a $10,000 bribe in return for recanting his official support for candidate Balraj Manhas.
Metro reported that Manhas was called a few days before the nomination ballot and told by constituency representatives that if he did not withdraw he would be publicly disqualified because nomination papers were invalid.
Two of Manhas’ supporters, including Sidhu, swore affidavits, obtained by Metro, which claim Bhardwaj, or others acting for him, asked them to sign prepared affidavits stating their names had improperly appeared on Manhas’ nomination form. Each candidate must have 25 signed sponsors.
Metro reported that Bilal Ali swore an affidavit in which he claimed his family was approached by three men, including Bhardwaj, and told to sign a document he believed was to confirm their support for Manhas. Ali told Metro he later realized the document was used to disqualify Manhas from the race.
Conservative party executive director Kelley Charlebois has publicly confirmed the allegations are under investigation.
Bhardwaj's statement of claim against Sidhu was filed in Edmonton Court of Queen's Bench on Friday.