UPDATE: Probe into allegations of conflict of interest against Raj Grewal continues despite resignation over gambling problems
The probe into allegations of conflict of interest surrounding former Brampton MP Raj Grewal will continue, despite his resignation from the House of Commons last week because of a gambling problem, says the ethics watchdog handling the investigation.
“The inquiry into the conduct of Mr. Raj Grewal will continue as soon as possible in spite of his resignation,” Jocelyne Brisebois, a spokesperson for the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, told The Pointer Tuesday. The response suggests that the review of Grewal’s conduct involving a Brampton builder invited on an official trip to India in January might have been suspended, but it’s not clear why. Media reports indicate the RCMP has also been investigating Grewal and it’s possible their involvement might have temporarily halted the commissioner’s probe.
News of the continuing investigation is only the latest update in a story that has quickly made Grewal a national news figure since he announced on his Facebook page last week that he was resigning from his job representing Brampton East due to “personal and medical” issues.
It was later made public by the Prime Minister’s Office that Grewal was in fact departing to deal with issues stemming from a gambling problem and significant debts that he had incurred.
“Earlier this week, Mr. Grewal told us that he is undergoing serious personal challenges, and that he is receiving treatment from a health professional related to a gambling problem that led him to incur significant personal debts,” the PMO wrote in a statement to The Pointer. “Based on these circumstances, we agreed that his decision to resign as Member of Parliament for Brampton East was the right one. We hope he receives the support he needs.”
On Tuesday, The Globe and Mail reported that the RCMP had been investigating the actions of Grewal months before his resignation, and had analyzed millions of dollars in transactions made by the former MP, including at a casino near Parliament Hill.
Quoting anonymous sources, the Globe reported that the RCMP had been tipped off to Grewal’s gambling habits by the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), which requires casinos to report transactions of more than $10,000 made in a day. Another of the Globe’s federal sources said Grewal crossed that threshold many times at the casino.
The Globe also reported that in January of this year Grewal and his girlfriend, Shikha Kasal (who he later married), bought a pair of condo suites in downtown Toronto, one valued at $1,295,575, secured with an HSBC Canada mortgage of $1,499,999. As well, Grewal had lines of credit with Royal Bank, TD Bank and the Bank of Nova Scotia.
The original complaint to the ethics commissioner, which prompted the investigation, does not include Grewal’s gambling issues, but instead deals with concerns registered by an NDP MP earlier this year, related to Grewal’s invitation to a Brampton builder who attended events during the controversial India trip led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in January.
Grewal, 33, got himself into hot water when he invited Zgemi Inc. CEO Yusuf Yenilmez to attend receptions during the visit with Trudeau. Grewal has disclosed that he received “employment income” from the business. The building company executive attended functions during the official visit, which featured meetings and events with influential politicians, business people and bureaucrats from Canada and India.
In March, NDP MP Charlie Angus sent a letter about the matter to ethics commissioner Mario Dion, asserting that Grewal’s conduct violated aspects of the Conflict of Interest Code, which applies to all MPs and prohibits using public office to benefit private interests.
The commissioner determined that the complaint warranted an official investigation. A probe was launched in May.
In Grewal’s public disclosure, which all MPs put forward, it stated he also took “employment income” from Brampton law firm Gahir and Associates. However, despite repeated attempts, including a visit to the office Tuesday, The Pointer has been unable to get any details or comment about the type of work Grewal provided for the firm.
On Monday, a receptionist at Gahir and Associates told The Pointer that Grewal worked directly with lawyer Harinder Gahir but would not divulge what that work entailed. Gahir has not responded to requests for comment.
According to its website, Gahir and Associates practises in areas including business, civil litigation, real estate and immigration law. The website biography for Gahir notes that he has been practising law in Canada since 2000 and he has “successfully represented his clients before the Immigration & Refugee Board and Federal Court. His areas of practice include Corporate & Commercial law, Commercial and Development Real Estate and complicated immigration cases.”
On Tuesday, The Pointer visited the firm and a receptionist again said Gahir was not available.
The rules about MPs accepting outside employment depend on their position, and there are grey areas. The Conflict of Interest Code, which applies to ordinary MPs, allows most to hold outside employment as long as they are not using their parliamentary office to advance their own interests or those of someone else. (Members of Cabinet, however, are strictly forbidden to take outside employment under the Conflict of Interest Act; this would not apply to Grewal.)
“This general rule set out in the Members’ Code is complemented by rules that prohibit Members from using their public office to influence a decision and taking advantage of insider information, in order to further their private interests or those of a family member, or to improperly further another person’s or entity’s private interests,” states the ethics commissioner’s website. “For example, furthering a private interest would include cases where a Member’s actions result, directly or indirectly, in outcomes such as an increase in a person’s assets or obtaining a business position.”
The Pointer has been unable to reach Grewal for comment since his resignation, and he has shared little information publicly since then, except for the Facebook post where he initially announced he would be stepping aside.
“This has been a decision I’ve struggled with for some time now and one I made with great difficulty and real sadness. But I feel I need this time to focus on my health and family,” Grewal wrote in his resignation Facebook post. “I am grateful for your unwavering support over the past three years. Brampton East is and will always be a special part of my life. I will continue to work for this community and am hopeful I will have the opportunity to serve you again.”
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