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Posted by Michael on 14:08:03 2004/12/17
In Reply to: Re: Police say charges likely posted by Michael
Outlet: The Globe And Mail
Byline: MARINA JIMÉNEZ
Title: Charges laid in alleged immigration bribery plot
A senior immigration manager in Ottawa, her boyfriend and three others have been charged in what police call an insider-corruption scheme that involves allegations that applicants of Middle Eastern origin paid bribes of up to $25,000 to be allowed to stay in Canada.
Diane Serre, the 34-year-old operations manager for Ottawa's local Citizenship and Immigration office, her boyfriend Roger Harper, 38, Vivian Badaan-Dakik, a 33-year-old beauty salon owner, her husband Issam Dakik, 44, and Ali Naser, 43, face a total of 66 charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, breach of trust, fraud upon the government and various other charges.
RCMP were tight-lipped yesterday about whether about a dozen people who are accused of paying bribes, ranging from $4,000 to $25,000, will be charged or have their permanent-residency status revoked, but noted they were from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and other Mideastern countries.
``The offences uncovered undermine the very fabric of a democratic society and cast a shadow on our government institutions,'' said Staff Sergeant Sergio Pasin, head of the RCMP's immigration and passport special investigations section in Ottawa. ``Criminal acts like these forever affect its victims, but especially those who have come to Canada to escape corrupted regimes.''
Added Corporal Nathalie Deschênes: ``The people who benefited from this scheme, there is no evidence to link them to any criminal organization or terrorist group. This is the first time we've seen allegations of insider corruption of this magnitude.''
One critic called the charges yet another black mark for the Immigration Department. The minister in charge, Judy Sgro, remains under investigation by the Ethics Commissioner for alleged conflict of interest in the granting of a temporary resident permit to an exotic dancer who worked on her election campaign.
But Ms. Serre is not a political appointee; she is a civil servant who oversees a staff of 10 to 15 people in her $51,000-a-year job. CIC spokesman Doug Kellam said it is unclear whether she will be suspended as the investigation proceeds.
``This comes as a shock to all of us. We will protect the public's interest, obviously,'' said Mr. Kellam, adding the department will conduct an internal investigation and review the permanent-resident status of approximately a dozen people alleged to have paid bribes.
A spokesman for Ms. Sgro said last night that the case is a matter for the department and that the minister's office had no comment.
Conservative immigration critic Diane Ablonczy called the arrests a black mark for the department.
``I'm absolutely stunned,'' she said. ``Is this a department completely and utterly out of control? Because that's what it looks like.''
She said her party will urge the government to provide the ministry with the resources to clean itself up. Canada's credibility has been tarnished by a string of scandals in the department, she said, and Ms. Sgro should be held accountable.
``The buck always stops with the minister,'' Ms. Ablonczy said. ``It doesn't look as if she is in control of her department.''
The applicants - refugee claimants, visitor overstays and those who had married Canadians - had made humanitarian and compassionate applications to stay.
Normally, CIC's central office in Vegreville, Alta., deals with such applicants, but local offices will consider particularly complex cases, or those who wish to stay in Canada while their paperwork proceeds, which can take as long as two years.
``It is not easy to get permanent-residency status in these cases,'' Mr. Kellam said. ``There is a high threshold to show why you should be allowed to remain in Canada while your application is processed.''
In her role as manager, Ms. Serre does not decide the outcome of humanitarian applications, but oversees those officers who do.
The RCMP said an anonymous call in January, 2004, was the impetus for them to begin an investigation. The probe also uncovered alleged credit-card fraud. The only charge against Mr. Naser is credit-card fraud. Ms. Serre is the only person accused who works for CIC.
``This criminal group sought money from several individuals of the Ottawa Arabic community in exchange for securing their permanent-residency status in Canada,'' Cpl. Deschênes said. ``One of them contacted the CIC employee and asked them to be part of the group.''
She said RCMP had Ms. Serre in for questioning yesterday, while Mr. Harper had been released on bail. The accused are scheduled to appear in court in Ottawa on Feb. 17. The maximum sentence for breach of trust is five years in prison. The RCMP said the probe continues and more charges may be laid.
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