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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 November 2005, 05:24 GMT
Chretien rejects Quebec inquiry
Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien
Jean Chretien accused Judge Gomery of political bias
Canada's former prime minister has rejected the conclusions of a public inquiry which partly blamed him for a corruption scandal in Quebec.

Jean Chretien accused the judge who led the inquiry of political bias and said he would seek a judicial review.

The judge found that Mr Chretien's Liberal Party had used a government advertising campaign in Quebec as a way of obtaining illegal election funds.

The inquiry almost completely cleared the current Canadian PM Paul Martin.

The inquiry focused on C$100m ($85m; 43m) which Judge John Gomery said was funnelled to advertising firms sympathetic to the Liberal Party, under a programme intended to promote national unity in the 1990s.

The sponsorship programme, as it is known, was set up under Mr Chretien after the French-speaking province of Quebec voted by the thinnest of margins to stay in Canada in 1995.

An auditor-general's report in 2004 found that the programme was run with few accounting rules being applied.

The BBC's Lee Carter says that in Quebec there may be much more long term damage for both the governing Liberals and the cause of national unity.

No excuses

Delivering his interim report on the scandal, Judge John Gomery said the scope of irregularities and mismanagement of the sponsorship programme were more widespread than he had imagined.

He found that a select group of advertising firms in Quebec received lucrative federal contracts, and then knowingly kicked some of the money back to the Liberal Party's Quebec wing, enabling it to side-step electoral financing laws.

Canada's Prime Minister Paul Martin
Paul Martin says he will call elections after the final report

He called it a "blatant misuse of public funds", and said while there was no evidence that Mr Chretien was aware of the kickback scheme, "good intentions are not an excuse for maladministration of this magnitude".

Mr Chretien ran the programme from his own office and as such was responsible for "the defective manner" in which the programme's initiatives were implemented.

Mr Gomery said several senior aides and bureaucrats and the heads of the advertising agencies involved must also share the blame, along with former Public Works Minister Alfonso Gagliano, whose department was supposed to oversee the programme.

Firm defence

But Mr Chretien was robust in his rejection of the inquiry's findings.

"Gomery has reached conclusions that are in no way based on the evidence before him," said the former prime minister. "In order to reach his conclusions he chose to ignore or misrepresent the clear evidence of all of the senior public servants ... who testified before him."

The report clears Paul Martin, the current prime minister, saying he was "entitled... to be exonerated from any blame for carelessness or misconduct".

Mr Martin was finance minister at the time, but always denied any knowledge of or involvement in the scandal, which has dominated Canadian politics for more than 18 months.

He narrowly survived a no-confidence vote in May, amid anger at the scale of the scandal.

Mr Gomery is expected to hand over a final report along with recommendations next February, and Mr Martin has promised to call an election within 30 days of its release.



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