Shooting the Messenger

Till Death Do Us Part

A Mugging in Amsterdam

The multi-million dollar fraud on the Canadian taxpayers and Parliament could not have been carried out without the assistance of the department’s financial officers and bookkeepers. Foreign Affairs had scores of these on its payroll. Financial Officers were stationed on a permanent and semi-permanent basis in London, Paris, Brussels, Tokyo and Washington. Smaller posts had at least one locally engaged staff (LES) to look after the books under the supervision of Foreign Service personnel or non-rotational Canadian staff on temporary assignment abroad.

It was purely by accident that I discovered that our accountant in Brussels, along with the one in Paris with the apartment described earlier, were in on the fraud. I ran into our man in Brussels coming out of Gordon’s office during a short visit to Ottawa. I could not resist asking him how it was possible for Brussels to have under-reported gains on foreign currency transactions by at least a quarter of a million dollars. .

He was not as eloquent as the spokesman for the Area Comptrollers in explaining his role in the theft of tens of millions of dollars. Glancing around, he whispered: “Listen, it’s always been the practice; we always only reported half the currency gains. Ottawa was happy and we kept the rest.”

Unlike the Canadian Financial Officer stationed in Paris who was there on a multi-year posting, our numbers man in Brussels was non-rotational, returning to Ottawa every four months. It was on one of these return trips to Ottawa that he was mugged by a man holding an ice cream cone. It happened while he was transiting through Amsterdam. He and the man with the cone both tried to get into the same cab at the same time, with the inevitable result that our much-travelled accountant ended up wearing the man’s ice cream.

The man apologized profusely and tried his best to clean up the mess he had made, and in the process, also removed our bookkeeper's passport and wallet which contained four thousand dollars (a hefty chunk of change even now). I was a little surprised when he submitted a claim for the stolen cash, and it was paid. The legal term is an “ex gratia payment”, meaning there was no legal obligation to give him the money.

I don't doubt that the money was stolen, but what was he doing coming back to Canada, after a four-month stay in Belgium at the Queen’s expense, with so much paper currency in his wallet?