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Senior Immigration Canada manager pleads not guilty in bribery scheme


 
 
Secretly recorded telephone calls and undercover police surveillance will paint a portrait of a senior Citizenship and Immigration Canada manager taking cash in exchange for preferential treatment on permanent residency applications, a prosecutor said Monday on the first day of a trial into an alleged bribes-for-status scheme.
Assistant Crown attorney Mike Boyce said Diane Serre teamed up with Issam Dakik to take thousands of dollars from mostly Arab immigrants in exchange for fast-tracking their applications. Dakik would meet with the applicants and collect the money before contacting Serre who would use her influence as a manager and supervisor in Citizenship and Immigration Canada's Catherine Street office, said Boyce.
Serre, 41, pleaded not guilty to 28 charges Monday, including multiple allegations of fraud against the government and breach of trust of a public official. She is also charged with one count of bribery.
Dakik portrayed himself as someone who had inside information, Boyce added.
Dakik, who has pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme, along with credit card fraud, was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison in 2006. At the time, Dakik admitted he paid Serre a portion of the proceeds of the scheme.
The scheme allegedly began in January 2003 and continued until December 2004, when Serre and Dakik were arrested by RCMP in an operation dubbed "Project Argon."
Nine applicants made the illegal cash payments, which the RC-MP said at the time of Serre's arrest ranged from between $4,000 and $25,000.
In an opening address, Boyce outlined Crown evidence that will be presented over the six-week trial, including wiretap evidence that the prosecutor said proved that Serre was Dakik's "insider" at Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Police surveillance observed visits to Dakik's home by Serre that corresponded with wiretapped telephone calls to some of the applicants - calls where Dakik would often either put the applicants on hold or could be heard consulting with someone else in the room.
Boyce alleged when an undercover police agent approached Dakik, he was told the first $300 he paid would go to "the lawyer." Bills with the same serial numbers were recovered two weeks later from Serre's bedroom, said the prosecution.
Among the allegations is that Serre also handed over sensitive Citizenship and Immigration Canada documents to Dakik and made phone calls to outside government agencies, including CSIS, to see if some of the steps of the application process could be expedited.
Not all of Serre's actions would be improper when viewed in isolation, said Boyce, but when viewed in the context of Serre's relationship with Dakik, they equated to a breach of trust.
"She accepted or agreed to accept a benefit for her assistance in processing these claims," Boyce told Ontario Superior Court Justice Catherine Aitken.
Boyce said the Crown intends to prove Serre not only committed a breach of trust by taking money, but by the very fact she agreed to give preferential treatment to the claimants at all.
"Just through acts of giving preferential treatment to those files would be a breach of trust by Ms. Serre," he said.
The nine applicants who paid Dakik are expected to be called as witnesses this week and next. Their evidence will include tape-recorded conversations and agreements they made with Dakik. Dakik is expected to take the witness stand in about two weeks, where prosecutors expect to confront him with the wiretaps and other surveillance.
The Crown will also introduce evidence that will show when Serre or others searched for the applicants' electronic files. Occasionally Serre would search the files within a day of discussing them with Dakik, Boyce alleged.
The prosecution spent much of the first day introducing many of the exhibits seized from searches of Citizenship and Immigration Canada office and Serre and Dakik's homes.
The trial continues Tuesday.
aseymour@ottawacitizen.com


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