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Mounties open criminal probe into Mike Duffy scandal

Mark Dunn. (Andre Forget/QMI Agency)

By Mark Dunn, Senior National Reporter

OTTAWA -- The RCMP has begun a criminal investigation into the $90,000 transaction between Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff and Sen. Mike Duffy to repay bogus housing claims.

The RCMP doesn't directly comment on the nature of its investigations, but did say Thursday it's no longer simply reviewing this element of Senate the scandal.

"The RCMP continues its investigation to determine whether a criminal act has taken place. It must be meticulous and carefully consider and examine all information," Cpl. Lucy Shorey said. "The RCMP would only lay charges when there is sufficient evidence to do so. As such, we will not be commenting any further on this matter."

Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson brought attention to the RCMP's expanded role after suspending her own examination under the Conflict of Interest Act into Nigel Wright's "gift."

The federal watchdog retreated "when it was confirmed to her earlier today (Thursday) that Mr. Wright is also being investigated in relation to the same subject matter to determine whether he has committed an offence under an Act of Parliament," said Jocelyne Brisebois, a spokeswoman for Dawson.

"The commissioner cannot continue the examination until any investigation or charge in respect of the same subject matter has been finally disposed of."

A spokesman for Harper said the PMO had not been contacted by the RCMP.

"The Prime Minister's Office has not been approached by the RCMP," said Andrew MacDougall, who is travelling with Harper in Europe.

"We would provide any possible assistance if asked."

Harper has said he first became aware of Wright's largesse in media reports. Wright resigned days after he was identified as Duffy's benefactor.

The Duffy-Wright affair has dominated the daily question period in the Commons for weeks since the Senate spending scandal came to light.

Opposition MPs continued to bombard the government Thursday, demanding to see a copy of the Wright cheque to prove no public or other funds were used.

"Why are the Conservatives simply taking his word that this was a personal cheque?" NDP MP David Christopherson asked in the House. "Does anyone over there have any evidence, any document, any proof?"

Conservative MP and former Ontario Provincial Police commissioner Julian Fantino said the RCMP was well suited to conduct an investigation.

"We respect the RCMP's right and entitlement to do their job," he said. "We respect due process and let it happen."

Mark.Dunn@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @MarkDunnSun

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