When former prime minister Brian Mulroney appears tomorrow before the Oliphant inquiry, his biggest hurdle won't be trying to explain why he accepted wads of cash from lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber and waited six years to pay tax on it.
And he probably won't be fazed by the witnesses over the past five weeks who told the judge they didn't know the former prime minister was paid for what he has said was legitimate work promoting armoured vehicles to foreign governments. And certainly don't expect the veteran orator to crumple when asked to explain his meetings with Mr. Schreiber in the prime minister's office.
Rather, the former prime minister's greatest problem may be something he had no control over - a scribble, consisting of 22 characters, that Mr. Schreiber made in his agenda book.
Mr. Schreiber gave the former prime minister at least $225,000 in cash in hotels in New York and Montreal between 1993 and 1994 after he left office. The two men disagree about what he was paid to do, as well as when their agreement was reached. Mr. Schreiber claims that the deal was struck just two days before Mr. Mulroney left office, during a meeting at the prime minister's summer residence on June 23, 1993. Mr. Mulroney says it was struck the same day Mr. Schreiber handed him his first envelope of cash, Aug. 27, 1993.
But Mr. Schreiber's meticulous note-taking raises another possibility.
Forensic auditors, as well as inquiry lawyers, have zeroed in on a meeting that the German-born lobbyist held with the prime minister before either of those dates - a June 3, 1993, meeting between Mr. Schreiber, Mr. Mulroney and Mr. Mulroney's former aide, Fred Doucet. A report to the inquiry by Navigant Consulting highlighted the meeting and underscored a strange note that Mr. Schreiber made the next day in his agenda book: "Frankfurt 1236 Brian*Max"
Frankfurt, as observers of this convoluted story have come to know, is the codename for a Swiss bank account that held the funds Mr. Schreiber later transferred to a new bank account he designated for Mr. Mulroney - the "Britan" account. The day Mr. Schreiber made this mysterious note, the Frankfurt account held exactly $1,236,199. In other words, something - or someone - prompted Mr. Schreiber to check the balance of the Frankfurt account the day after his meeting with Mr. Mulroney, and then he wrote "Brian" and "Max" next to it. This is almost three months before Mr. Mulroney says the pair made their agreement.
Why Mr. Schreiber scrawled that down remains a mystery. He was questioned about the entry when he testified last week, but lead inquiry lawyer Richard Wolson refrained from directly asking him what he was thinking, perhaps wanting to wait for Mr. Schreiber's re-examination next week.
The word "Max" could well refer to Max Strauss, the son of the late Franz Josef Strauss, a former Bavarian premier and the chairman of Airbus Industrie who was close to Mr. Schreiber. Evidence has already emerged at the inquiry - from both Mr. Schreiber and a former Mulroney aide, Pat MacAdam - that Mr. Mulroney met privately with Mr. Schreiber and Max Strauss when he was leader of the opposition.
Yet when the former prime minister sued the federal government in 1996, and was asked, under oath, whether he knew Mr. Schreiber as a friend of Franz Josef Strauss, Mr. Mulroney replied: "I did not know Mr. Strauss myself, nor did I know any of his family."
The mention of "Max" Strauss could lead to further questions at the inquiry about the millions of dollars in Airbus secret commissions. Mr. Schreiber was paid about $20-million by Airbus, thanks to a secret side deal he had with the European manufacturer to promote its planes to politicians and Air Canada, which was a Crown corporation when it agreed to purchase 34 Airbus jetliners.
Steven Whitla, a forensic auditor, has already testified that the money Mr. Schreiber reserved for Mr. Mulroney in a Swiss bank account was likely Airbus money. But the inquiry also heard that there is no evidence that Mr. Mulroney knew the source of the funds.
The inquiry has also heard that Mr. Mulroney's friend and former aide Fred Doucet sent three letters to Mr. Schreiber about Airbus deliveries to Air Canada, including a letter that was dated the same day as the former prime minister's first cash payment. Mr. Doucet has also acknowledged arranging two of the three meetings where cash changed hands.
Mr. Mulroney, Mr. Schreiber and Mr. Doucet have all denied that the payments had anything to do with the Airbus commissions.
Who asks what
Former prime minister Brian Mulroney has taken advantage of a special inquiry rule that allows his own lawyer to conduct the examination-in-chief. Therefore, most of the questions asked during Mr. Mulroney's first few days before the inquiry will be asked by his lead lawyer, Guy Pratte.
During most of the testimony last week, Mr. Pratte wasn't present - perhaps because the lawyer and the former prime minister were preparing for his examination.
The other lawyers, such as commission counsel Richard Wolson and Karlheinz Schreiber's lawyer, Richard Auger, will get their chance during cross-examinations.