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Friday, 31 May, 2002, 13:56 GMT 14:56 UK
Canadian PM defends 'stolen' money
Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien
Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien has admitted that "a few million [Canadian] dollars" may have been stolen during efforts to raise the profile of the federal government in the province of Quebec.


Perhaps there was a few million [Canadian] dollars that might have been stolen in the process

Jean Chretien, Canadian PM
Speaking to Liberal Party supporters at a fundraising dinner, the prime minister said the money was lost in a good cause - to preserve Canada as a united country.

Mr Chretien's government has become embroiled in a growing corruption scandal over contracts handed out to Liberal supporters.

The allegations are the subject of a police investigation and have already cost two ministers their jobs.

No apology

Many of the allegations centre on a programme set up to boost the federal government's profile in the prime minister's home province of Quebec, where French-speaking separatists came close to seceding from Canada in a referendum in 1995.


I had to make sure the presence of Canada was to be felt in Quebec

Jean Chretien
"Perhaps there was a few million [Canadian] dollars that might have been stolen in the process. It is possible," Mr Chretien told his supporters on Thursday night.

"But how many millions have we saved to the country because we have re-established the stability of Canada as united country?"

Mr Chretien said that if anyone had stolen the money, they would have to face the courts.

"But I will not apologise to any Canadians. With the circumstances in November 1995, I had to make sure the presence of Canada was to be felt in Quebec," he said.

Leaks

Mr Chretien obtained a landslide victory in 1993, after pledging to end corruption. He was elected to a third term in office in 2000.

But Canadian analysts say the growing scandal may force him out of office before the end of the five-year term.

Canadian reports say much of the scandal has been fuelled by leaks coming from within the Liberal leadership.

The National Post newspaper said the prime minister read the riot act to his ministers, warning he will demote anyone caught leaking.

Chretien loyalists within the party have blamed the leaks on supporters of Finance Minister Paul Martin, who is tipped to succeed Mr Chretien as party leader.

Under the Liberal Party constitution, there must be a leadership review vote at the party's convention in February.

See also:

21 Jan 02 | Americas
29 Nov 00 | Americas
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27 May 02 | Country profiles
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