Walsh rebuffs kickback claims

Rob Antle
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Prosecution begins to lay out details of case

After five hours in an interview room at Royal Newfoundland Constabulary headquarters, Insp. Brian Dowden cut to the chase.

"Bill Murray said that he was receiving kickbacks from you," Dowden said to former MHA Jim Walsh. "What's your response to that?"

A television cameraman focuses on former Liberal MHA Jim Walsh before the beginning of court proceedings in Walsh's corruption trial Wednesday morning. - Photo by Rob Antle/The Telegram

After five hours in an interview room at Royal Newfoundland Constabulary headquarters, Insp. Brian Dowden cut to the chase.

"Bill Murray said that he was receiving kickbacks from you," Dowden said to former MHA Jim Walsh. "What's your response to that?"

"No," Walsh replied. "Under any circumstances, no."

After a back and forth with Walsh and his lawyer, Vernon French, Dowden continued to press the allegation.

"Bill Murray said that he was receiving kickbacks from you," Dowden repeated.

"Look me in the eye," Walsh replied. "No."

Dowden continued.

"I'll do more than look you in the eye, I'll tell you another one."

Murray alleged that Walsh said he had financial difficulties, and had asked Murray "what he could do" about the situation, the officer said.

After a quick exchange, Walsh denied the allegation.

"Ah, the man - get him off his drugs," Walsh said.

"Whatever medication he's on, never happened."

The dramatic videotaped interview - conducted in August 2007, before Walsh was charged with any crime - was played in provincial court Wednesday morning.

Walsh - a former Liberal MHA and provincial cabinet minister - is on trial for fraud over $5,000, breach of trust by a public officer and frauds on government.

He is accused of making excess claims totalling $159,316 from his taxpayer-funded constituency allow-ance between 1998 and 2004.

Murray, former financial director for the House, also faces charges in relation with the constituency allowance spending scandal.

In the videotaped interview, Walsh again downplayed his relationship with Murray.

"Bill Murray didn't move in my social class," the former MHA told police in 2007. "He didn't move in the class where ... me or my family would feel comfortable with him.

"And there was nothing Bill Murray could do for me. Not, nothing. Anything he would have to do for me would have to be illegal."

Walsh and his lawyer categorized Murray as an alcoholic with mental-health issues.

But Dowden summed up the situation facing police for Walsh in 2007.

"We have forms submitted to government signed by yourself, some photocopies, some not, you receiving the money for grossly in excess of what you're entitled to," the police officer said.

Walsh reiterated he would not have to rely on Murray for financial assistance, saying to do so would create a "pyramid of conspiracy" that could later come back to haunt him.

Walsh repeatedly stressed the role of his staff in preparing constituency allowance claims, and the House of Assembly in monitoring them and ensuring their accuracy.

In the video played for the court, police questioned Walsh about a number of constituency expenses he claimed.

Those included mileage claims for car travel in Walsh's district when records indicated he was out of the province, and 150 per-diem claims for meals and accommodations paid to the MHA on the same days he also claimed for restaurant meals.

Walsh could not directly answer many of those queries, and again steered the focus back to staff.

The playing of the 2007 videotaped interview finished just before the Wednesday lunch break.

In the afternoon, Crown prosecutor Frances Knickle led Dowden through a series of claims made by Walsh from his constituency allowance.

The police officer highlighted Walsh's signature on the claim forms - on several occasions, the MHA's signature was photocopied, but the rest of the form was filled out in blue ink.

The defence questioned whether the forms were original, or photocopies - there was a mixture of both - and whether Dowden could identify all of the handwriting for the person who filled out all the claims. He couldn't. But the officer testified that the signatures all appeared to be Walsh's - whether originals or photocopies. And the money went into Walsh's bank account.

Knickle also asked Dowden to show the court House of Assembly documents obtained by police when they seized Walsh's banking records.

Two letters from the legislature -one in 2001, the other in 2003 - noted that Walsh was entitled to a maximum of $30,500 in accountable expenses.

Knickle said the letters highlighted the fact that Walsh should have known his spending limit.

The case is scheduled to resume before Judge David Orr at provincial court today.

rantle@thetelegram.com

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