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Arthur Porter resigns as Canada’s spy review chief

MONTREAL – Dr. Arthur Porter (pictured) resigned as chair of Canada’s spy review board after disclosures of his business dealings with an international lobbyist and his own close ties to the president of Sierra Leone.

“Dr. Porter has submitted his resignation to me, and I have accepted it, effective immediately,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement. Dr. Porter, a practicing oncologist, is also the executive director of the McGill University Health Centre.

Dr. Porter was the federally appointed chairman of the Security and Intelligence Review Committee, which reviews the activities of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, but offered his resignation after the National Post newspaper reported that he had wired $200,000 in personal funds to Ari Ben-Menashe, a Montreal-based businessman who often acts as a middleman in negotiations between the Russian Federation and developing countries.

In his Nov. 9 letter of resignation, which was accepted by Mr. Harper on Thursday, Dr. Porter said the media coverage “raised the spectre of a conflict of interest” and questioned his “good judgment.”

“As you are undoubtedly aware,” he wrote to Mr. Harper, “a National Post article that was published on November 8 challenged my credibility and contributions to Canada … I am very disappointed with the scurrilous portrayal. I am a proud Canadian and man for whom integrity, honour and respect hold tremendous meaning.”

Still, he said he feared the “hint of doubt” could negatively impact the committee’s work.

“For this reason, despite the knowledge that I haven’t let other business interests interfere with my SIRC responsibilities, I respectfully tender my resignation as the chair and as a member of SIRC,” he said in his letter.

In June, 2010, Dr. Porter signed a consultancy agreement with Mr. Ben-Menashe’s private company, which obliged Mr. Ben-Menashe to secure a US$120-million grant from Russia for “infrastructure development in Sierra Leone” managed by Dr. Porter’s own company, Africa Infrastructure Group. The deal never materialized.

Dr. Porter and his family have mining stakes in Sierra Leone, a country battered by years of war and corruption, and was named by the president of the country to the position of Ambassador Plenipotentiary – a rare title defined as someone who has the authority to represent a head of state.

“That is a complete conflict of interest and it raises the spectre of the potential for foreign influence in Canadian affairs – sensitive Canadian affairs,” said Wesley Wark, a specialist in the history of intelligence services and national security policy at the University of Toronto. “The simple fact that someone is on the one hand serving in a very sensitive Canadian position, and on the other hand holds an appointment – however honorific – for a foreign government, is just not ‘on.’”

Dr. Porter was elevated to committee chairman last year. He told the National Post earlier this week he was not aware of Mr. Ben-Menashe’s background, including multimillion-dollar consultancy deals with Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe. Mr. Ben-Menashe was also arrested in the United States in 1989 and charged with illegally attempting to sell three military transport airplanes to Iran. He went to trial and was acquitted in 1990.

Posted November 17, 2011