Ethics watchdog launches inquiry into Liberal MP Grewal
Concerns over conflicts of interest during India trip
OTTAWA • The federal ethics watchdog is opening a formal investigation into Liberal MP Raj Grewal after he invited an employer to attend receptions in India during the prime minister’s trip in February.
“I have determined that an inquiry under the (Conflict of Interest) Code is warranted,” Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion said in a “confidential” letter to NDP MP Charlie Angus on Thursday, obtained by the National Post. “I am commencing an inquiry and have so informed Mr. Grewal. Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention.”
Angus made a formal complaint to Dion at the end of March, after it came to light that Grewal’s office had invited his current employer, to whom he provides “legal services,” to receptions in India attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, members of cabinet and senior government officials. The business relationship itself began after Grewal became an MP, and was disclosed with the ethics commissioner at the time.
Grewal had confirmed to the Post in March that his office sent invitations to employer Yusuf Yenilmez, the CEO of a Greater Toronto Area construction company, Zgemi Inc. Yenilmez corroborated that, saying he had called the office ahead of the trip to “make sure my name was on the list.” Both of them said that Yenilmez would have had access to events anyway, because he was travelling with the Canada-India Business Council.
The prime minister’s office, which at the time was still dealing with the fall-out of the presence of attempted murderer Jaspal Atwal at one of the same receptions, refused to comment on the record. The PMO had been asserting that Atwal got invited through Liberal MP Randeep Sarai, which raised questions about how much the PM’s own staff were vetting party guests.
Sarai and Grewal described the invitations in a similar way, saying they collected the names of anyone in their riding who was interested in attending the events, then gave lists to the Canadian High Commission in India.
That Grewal did not recuse himself from assisting a current employer with the invitation process raised concerns for opposition parties. Angus’s formal complaint in March said this appeared to be a “very egregious abuse” of conflict-of-interest rules. The Conservatives also complained to Dion, with MP Stephanie Kusie initiating a similar process a day later.
Dion’s response to Angus Thursday said his decision to formally investigate came after a careful review of “written representations” from Grewal as well as “public documents.”
“As I have said before, I cleared this business relationship in advance with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, have followed the commissioner’s advice, and will continue to do so,” Grewal said in a statement to the Post Thursday.
“I understand that the Commissioner would like more information and as I have done in the past, I will be cooperating fully with the Commissioner’s Office.”
Grewal is not the first Liberal MP to be investigated during Trudeau’s tenure — an investigation into Finance Minister Bill Morneau is ongoing and Trudeau himself was found guilty of breaking ethics law by outgoing commissioner Mary Dawson last December, before Dion took over the following month.
“What concerns me is that we have a government that came in and made very strong promises about accountability and setting the bar higher, and then immediately started to act as though rules belonged to other people but not Liberals,” Angus said in an interview.
“This is going to be one of the first tests for the new commissioner . ... I’m hoping we’ll get a ruling that may give other government officials, government MPs, pause to consider that they have an obligation to serve the public interest. That’s their job. That they’re there, elected by citizens, to serve the public — not to serve their friends or to serve their business interests.”
The Conflict of Interest Code prohibits Dion from speaking publicly about investigations — they are mandated to occur in confidence — but a spokeswoman for the office, Margot Booth, confirmed that the inquiry has been launched. At the conclusion of an inquiry, the commissioner will issue a report, which could include recommendations for sanctions against the MP if he is found to have broken the rules. The commissioner has no powers to enforce punishment.
Raj Grewal, right, is seen with Yusuf Yenilmez, CEO of Zgemi Inc., for whom Grewal helped secure an invitation to attend events in India, during the prime minister’s trip to India in February.