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Updated: Mon, 26 Aug 2013 17:52:04 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Senator Mac Harb pays back $231,000 in expenses, retires



Senator Mac Harb pays back $231,000 in expenses, retires

Mac Harb is stepping down from the Senate, dropping his legal action and repaying the remaining $180,000 the Senate says he owes for inappropriate living and travel expense claims.

Harb, who was a Liberal senator until his spending came under scrutiny through an external audit, had already paid back $51,482.90. He did so under protest and had asked the court for a judicial review of the order from the Senate to pay money back.

In a news release Monday, Harb said he delivered a cheque to the chair of the Senate standing committee on internal economy for $180,166.17. That means he's repaid a total of $231,649.07.

The Senate confirmed in a press release late Monday that Harb had provided the cheque. The press release said that total amount includes $38,758.59 in interest.

Harb took out loans to repay the expenses, Harb's lawyer told CBC News. The Canadian Press reported earlier this month that an Ottawa businessman had loaned Harb $230,000.

"As has been previously reported, Senator Harb had already obtained significant loans to deal with his Senate expense issues," Paul Champ said.

"Most of the money came from that, as he will not be needing it for his legal case. However, it was necessary to obtain another loan to cover the full amount. However, all financial transactions have been reported to the Senate, as required."

Speaking to CBC News, Harb said he "is relieved after 28 years in public service to become a private citizen. The last couple of months have been very hard," he told the CBC's Hannah Thibedeau, adding that he is relieved to move forward.

Harb qualifies for full pension

Harb, who was the MP for Ottawa Centre for 15 years until he was appointed to the Senate in 2003, maxed out on his parliamentary pension in 2007. He was also a city councillor in Ottawa prior to becoming an MP.

A spokesman for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says Harb can collect his full MP pension immediately. That's worth $122,989 a year and is fully indexed, Gregory Thomas told CBC News.

The pension over Harb's lifetime could be worth "$5,020,790... assuming living [until] age 90 which is average life span of pension plan members. In the event of his passing, his surviving spouse will collect 60 per cent of his pension for life, which is not included in this calculation," Thomas wrote in an email.

In May, the Senate internal economy committee said Harb owed $51,000 in expenses claimed over the past two years. He subsequently left the Liberal caucus. In June, Harb was sent a letter ordering him to pay that amount.

The Senate also advised Harb to repay a total of more than $231,000 claimed since 2005 or face an extensive audit of his expense claims over that period.

His expenses were controversial because of his claim that a home near Pembroke, Ont., is his primary residence. Senators whose primary residence is at least 100 kilometres from Ottawa are permitted to charge living and travel expenses.

RCMP investigating expenses

The RCMP is looking into Harb's spending and in court documents filed earlier this summer, an investigator said he believes the senator really lives in Ottawa and should not have claimed the housing and travel expenses over the years.

- Senator Harb didn't live at 'primary' residence, RCMP say

Champ says the RCMP haven't asked to speak to Harb.

Harb reiterated in his statement that the Senate internal economy committee treated him "very unfairly," and said he wanted "to make the point that every Canadian, even senators, should be entitled to due process."

"I always followed Senate rules on expenses, and filed my expense claims in a timely and transparent manner. At no time did anyone suggest my claims were invalid or questionable. And from what I could tell, most Senators made similar claims."

Champ said in a statement that the "Tory-dominated" Senate committee is to blame for retroactively applying "its own vague definition of residence, with criteria that are not set out in any Senate rules or policies."

"It’s sad, but my client became a casualty of the hyper partisan atmosphere that prevails in Ottawa right now," Champ said.

The committee also ordered Conservative-appointed senators Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau to repay inappropriate expenses they claimed. Wallin and Senator Mike Duffy resigned from the Conservative caucus over the expenses scandal. Brazeau was kicked out of caucus after being arrested and charged with an unrelated offence. Duffy repaid his expenses before independent auditors finished their report into his spending.

Brazeau and Duffy are also being investigated by the RCMP for their expense claims, according to court documents. The Senate committee referred Wallin's audit to the RCMP.

Senate Liberal Leader James Cowan says he respects Harb's decision and that the two didn't discuss it.

While the NDP is calling for the three Conservative-appointed senators to resign, Cowan said that in Canada, people are presumed innocent until it's proven otherwise.

"I think that these individuals have their own decisions to make," he said.

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