Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff personally footed the $90,000 bill for embattled Sen. Mike Duffy's improper housing expenses.
Harper spokesman Andrew MacDougall says Duffy was unable to come up with the money following an external audit, so Harper's right-hand man Nigel Wright stepped in.
“The government believes that taxpayers should not be on the hook for improper expense claims made by senators,'' MacDougall said in a statement.
“Mr. Duffy agreed to repay the expenses because it was the right thing to do. However, Mr. Duffy was unable to make a timely repayment. Mr. Wright therefore wrote a cheque from his personal account for the full amount owing so that Mr. Duffy could repay the outstanding amount.''
A government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said Wright and Duffy are friends and that Wright offered the money as a gift rather than a loan.
Duffy had been experiencing financial difficulties, the source said.
The Prime Minister's Office is emphasizing that Harper knew nothing of the arrangement and that no taxpayer money was used to cover the repayment.
The NDP said the news of Wright's involvement underscores the need for an independent inquiry into the expense scandal.
Charlie Angus, the party's ethics critic, said the problems won't disappear.
“We have the abuse of taxpayers' dollars, the leaking of a confidential audit report and allegations of a 'cash-for-repayment' scheme quarterbacked right out of the PMO,'' Angus said.
“The dark cloud of ethical failures hanging over the Prime Minister's Office is growing larger.''
Liberal Sen. Mac Harb and former Conservative Sen. Patrick Brazeau are fighting the Senate over tens of thousands of dollars in housing expenses they are being asked to repay.
The Conservative government has been highly critical of both Harb and Brazeau, while declaring the case closed on Duffy's expenses. Last week, Conservative House leader Peter Van Loan said Duffy had shown “leadership'' when he made the repayment.
The Senate is now refusing to reveal the full breakdown of Duffy's expense claims, even after an outside audit firm noted they were unable to get a full picture of Duffy's expenses.
Duffy failed to provide auditors at Deloitte with financial statements, credit-card bills, or information on where he was when he billed the taxpayer for daily expenses. He also did not meet with the auditors, despite requests.
By looking at Duffy's Senate cellphone bills, Deloitte eventually turned up one unusual charge: daily expenses incurred while he was in Florida. Duffy's office had listed him as being on Senate business, but Duffy called that a clerical error.
... More on this story later, full details in the print and e-editions of The Guardian tomorrow.