Liberals deny meddling in RCMP probe

Tory leader Joe Clark asks RCMP if government meddled in Shawinigan affair probe. Liberals accuse him of groundless smear.

Conservative Leader Joe Clark is demanding to know whether the federal government interfered in an RCMP investigation into a central figure in the so-called Shawinigate affair.

Police searched the Montreal home of Francois Beaudoin, former president of the federal Business Development Bank, on Tuesday. They seized his laptop computer.

Beaudoin is suing the bank, claiming he lost his job because he opposed a loan to a hotel in Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's riding. The bank denies the allegation.

Opposition MPs have repeatedly accused Chrétien of conflict of interest, arguing it was inappropriate for him to lobby the bank for a loan on behalf of a constituent they believe owed him money at the time. The RCMP have been investigating the case since last spring.

Beaudoin's lawyer says detectives were looking for a document that the bank and prime minister both insist is a fake.

Earlier this month, police said they were not able to prove or debunk the forgery claim.

On Friday, Clark suggested that the RCMP may have been pressured by the Liberals to intensify the probe. He has written the force's commissioner, Giuliano Zaccardelli, asking if "any agency or office of the government of Canada" talked to the police before the raid.

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Clark called it a "highly unusual circumstance" that required clarification, even though he admitted having no evidence that anyone did anything wrong.

Several Liberal cabinet ministers pounced on the Tory leader, accusing him of trying to smear Chrétien and others with groundless gossip.

"He's really trying to allege that the RCMP are ... a political organization or a political police force," said Industry Minister Brian Tobin, who is responsible for the bank.

"There's obviously something very deeply personal and bitter here," Tobin added. "This is a personal vendetta."

"The RCMP don't seek the permission, nor do they give any notice to members of the cabinet or any member of the House prior to conducting their work," Tobin told the House of Commons. "The RCMP are doing their job. Let them do their job."

Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay, the minister responsible for the RCMP, also accused Clark of trying to discredit the force.