Criminal Law

Bribery 'one of the weaker allegations:' Mike Duffy trial

As the third instalment of the Mike Duffy trial begins this week, Toronto criminal lawyer Joseph Neuberger says the bribery charge the suspended Conservative senator is facing is "one of the weaker allegations of the Crown's case.”

The problem, Neuberger tells the CBC, is that it implies there was some kind of quid pro quo that may be difficult to prove.

"[The Crown] has to establish there was some benefit for Duffy or for the government," he says. "And if the idea is there was supposed to be an explicit understanding that Duffy was going to be quiet about this and that this is not going to go public, then I'm assuming Nigel Wright is engaging in some conduct that would draw culpability."

But in the absence of charges against Wright, that simply doesn’t shore up, Neuberger tells the public broadcaster.

Wright, the prime minister’s former chief of staff, will testify on the question of whether Duffy received a bribe (the defence denies this). Wright is expected to be a critical witness for the Crown.

Wright’s court appearance is happening during the second week of the campaign leading up to the Oct. 19 federal election.

Neuberger, partner at Neuberger & Partners LLP, says that while it’s difficult to know what evidence the Crown might have at its disposal, on the face of it, a conviction on the bribery charge may be unlikely.

"I'm not seeing it," he said. "I'm looking at it very hard, and I'm not seeing it."

Duffy has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery. The charges are related to expenses he claimed as a senator and later repaid with money from Wright.

"Wright has already acknowledged he gave Duffy a cheque for $90,000 in order to cover his controversial spending habits while sitting in the upper chamber. Wright claimed his only motive was to ensure taxpayers were not on the hook for the money," says the article.

Neuberger says reasonable doubt could mean a not guilty verdict for Duffy on some or all of the charges, even if the judge gives creedence to the Crown's argument that it's simply common sense that some of Duffy's expense claims were inappropriate.

"So, we're not anywhere near a judge being able to make a conclusion, but based upon a common sense analysis, from some of these expenditures, they do raise your eyebrows," he says.

"Whether it can reach the threshold of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, given the state of what the rules were for expenditures in the Senate, I think that's a very strong argument for the defence."

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