Former Liberal MP Raj Grewal sent the names of 100 people he wanted to invite to receptions with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in India in 2018, and no one on his list raised any red flags with Trudeau’s staff before the trip took place, an Ottawa courtroom heard Monday.
Grewal, 36, is facing two charges of breach of trust related to loans he sought from friends, family and other associates to help pay for a gambling habit that racked up millions of dollars in debt.
Those charges allege Grewal lied to obtain loans using his political office, and that he used his office to obtain loans for personal benefit.
Grewal has denied any criminal wrongdoing. In 2018, he said he had sought treatment for a gambling addiction, obtained loans only from friends and family, and that all had been repaid.
The Crown is alleging that Grewal sought the loans from people in exchange for securing them access to the India trip, or for work on immigration files.
Grewal was elected in 2015 in a Brampton, Ont., riding, but parted ways with the Liberals in 2018 as the gambling problem came to light. He sat as an Independent for almost a year but did not run again in the 2019 federal election.
He was charged initially by the RCMP in September 2020 with four counts of breach of trust and one count of fraud, but only two of the breach of trust charges remain.
On Monday, as the trial began its second week, Crown attorney Tim Wightman walked a former Liberal political staffer through emails and documents that outlined the process by which MPs could invite people to events on the India trip.
Vandana Kattar Miller, who in 2018 was a senior aide to Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, served as a liaison between the Prime Minister’s Office and Liberal MPs who wanted to participate in the India tour in February 2018.
That nine-day trip was tense as Indian politicians accused Trudeau of sympathizing with Sikh separatist extremists. It fell completely over a cliff when it came to light that invitations to two receptions with Trudeau had been issued to a man with Sikh extremist ties who had been convicted in Canada of attempting to murder an Indian politician in 1986.
But in court, the Crown’s focus is on who Grewal put on the invitation list.
Kattar Miller said there were two larger receptions — one in Delhi and one in Mumbai — and MPs who wished to join could submit names of people they wanted to have invited to the receptions.
More than a dozen Liberal MPs joined the trip and their invitation list together takes up more than 12 pages. Grewal’s initial list had 100 names on it.
Kattar Miller said there was also a more intimate meet-and-greet with Trudeau in Delhi to which MPs could invite up to five people. That event would allow invitees a chance to meet Trudeau and have their photos taken with him.
During cross-examination, Grewal’s defence attorney confirmed with Kattar Miller that MPs were able to submit as many names for the invitation list as they wanted and that there were no restrictions on whom the MPs could invite.
She also confirmed to him that she had done a “high-level” review of the names submitted and none of them raised any alarm bells.
“I can’t recall anything,” she said.
The trial is expected to last until late July.