Aga Khan reimbursed for cost of staffer stay on Bahamas island during Trudeau trip

Some of the money taxpayers paid as a result of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's controversial Bahamas vacation went to a billionaire Trudeau has described as a close family friend.

Money listed in documents tabled in the House of Commons as "per diems" for a tour technician who accompanied the prime minister was actually paid to the Aga Khan who owns Bell Island.

"The $1,604 is the total amount paid to the owner of Bell Island for the technician's 12 day stay ($100 US x 12 days)," wrote Privy Council spokesman Raymond Rivet following questions from CBC News.

The $1,604 was part of the $127,000 that Trudeau's vacation ended up costing the government.

Conservative MP Tony Clement, a former president of the Treasury Board, which oversees expense account policy for the government, said the revelation adds to the unanswered questions and ethical issues swirling around Trudeau's trip.

"To have the costs paid directly to the owner of the island, the Aga Khan, is highly unusual," he said. "In fact, I've never heard of a case of that happening before."

NDP MP Nathan Cullen said Trudeau's choice to vacation on a billionaire's private island raises questions.

"It stinks, the whole thing stinks," said NDP MP Nathan Cullen.

The revelation that the government reimbursed the Aga Khan for at least one government employee's stay on his island highlights the complications inherent in Trudeau's decision to vacation on the Aga Khan's Caribbean island during the Christmas holidays.

For example, government employees are entitled to claim per diems to cover meals and incidentals when they travel on government business. However, they are not entitled to claim meal per diems if meals are provided.

Accepting meals and accommodation from someone who has a foundation that gets government grants and which lobbies government officials raises ethical questions. However, reimbursing the costs means that taxpayer's money went to a friend of Trudeau's family.

Moreover, the money paid by the Privy Council may not be the only money paid to the Aga Khan.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has refused to say how its officers who accompanied Trudeau spent $53,253 on "travel, accommodation and per diems," arguing it could jeopardize the prime minister's security. The RCMP spent another $18,735 on overtime and shift differentials for the officers.

Generally, RCMP officers fly with the prime minister on government planes and accompany him at all times.

Trudeau has come under fire in the House of Commons for taking the trip.

Liberal MP and longtime friend Seamus O'Regan and his husband Steve Doss joined Trudeau's family on the island along with Liberal Party president Anna Gainey and her husband Tom Pitfield, who was a key member of Trudeau's election campaign team.

Trudeau has defended the trip, arguing that the Aga Khan —  leader of the world's Ismaili Muslims — is a longtime family friend. However, that has not stopped Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson from launching an investigation into a complaint filed by Conservative MP Andrew Scheer.

The Aga Khan Foundation Canada has received federal government grants in the past for its international development projects and is currently registered to lobby several government offices, including the prime minister's office.

Security rules

Any time a prime minister goes anywhere — even on vacation — it costs money.

Security rules call for prime ministers to travel by government plane. Jetting off to the Bahamas and back in an armed forces CC-144 Challenger cost $32,000.

Each trip includes an RCMP protective detail and a Privy Council Office tour technician.

"Irrespective of his schedule or location, the prime minister must always be in a position to carry out official government duties," Rivet explained.

"As has been the case for many years and for previous prime ministers, the prime minister is provided with comprehensive technical and tour (audio and visual) support during all travel, domestically and internationally, regardless of whether he or she is on personal or government business. Support for the prime minister includes setting up a temporary secure office that provides a link to the PCO computer environment."

The technician travelled to Nassau in advance of Trudeau on Dec. 23 and left the Bahamas on Jan. 5 after spending 12 days on Bell Island.

To get the equipment to the Bahamas, Global Affairs used a diplomatic courier. Packages carried by diplomatic courier are not subject to customs inspection.

Sending the courier cost $11,978 in transportation, $1,927 in accommodations and $1,267 in per diems.

The diplomatic courier did not stay on Bell Island with Trudeau.

Global Affairs has yet to reveal whether the employee was assigned any duties during Trudeau's vacation apart from bringing equipment to the Bahamas at the beginning of the vacation and bringing it back at the end.

Clement said reimbursing the Aga Khan sets a potentially dangerous precedent.

"If it were the case that an outside organization can merely bill the government for perceived costs associated with a government employee being around, you could imagine where this would lead. It would lead to inflated bills that would not be in any way verifiable or justifiable."

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca