OTTAWA – Canada’s foreign affairs department blocked the appointment of Canadian businessman Nathan Jacobson as Costa Rica’s honorary consul to Toronto in 2007 after an RCMP review, documents from the Central American country show.
The revelation raises questions about why senior officials didn’t warn the prime minister and senior cabinet ministers about Jacobson’s legal difficulties.
Jacobson, who pleaded guilty to money laundering in San Diego in 2008, was a friend of Foreign Affairs Minister Baird and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney until Postmedia News reported on his legal difficulties this past summer, when he failed to surrender to American authorities as agreed.
Spokespeople for Baird, Kenney and Prime Minister Stephen Harper have all said their bosses were not aware of Jacobson’s legal difficulties.
But senior officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs, and the RCMP, appear to have known about Jacobson’s problems, since the department rejected his appointment in 2007 after the Mounties conducted a review, according to a letter from Costa Rica’s ambassador to Canada that was uncovered by La Nacion, a newspaper in San Jose, Costa Rica.
La Nacion reported last Monday that Jacobson was proposed as honorary consul after Jacobson donated $25,000 to former president Oscar Arias’ Foundation for Peace and Human Progress.
Arias, a Nobel Prize winner, told La Nacion that Jacobson was recommended by a friend of former Israeli president Shimon Peres. On his application for the post, Jacobson named two Canadian politicians as references: former Liberal foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy and Lyle Oberg, former Alberta Transport Minister. Neither could be reached for comment Monday.
After Jacobson’s name was submitted to the federal government, Canada objected, according to a Dec. 20, 2007 letter to Costa Rican foreign affairs minister Bruno Stagno from Emilia Alvarez Navarro, then Costa Rica’s ambassador in Ottawa.
Alvarez Navarro wrote that four months passed after Costa Rica put forward Jacobson’s name without response, signifying there was a problem, so she spoke with protocol officer Angelica Tello, who said the RCMP were looking into the matter.
On Oct. 19, James Lambert, then director general of the Latin America and Caribbean bureau for Foreign Affairs, informed her that Canada would not accredit Jacobson but declined to give reasons.
Alvarez Navarro wrote that Jacobson was surprised by the news, and promised to fix the problem, but Mannon Dumas, deputy director of protocol for Canada, told her on Nov. 30 that if Costa Rica didn’t withdraw Jacobson’s name, Canada would reject it, which would set a bad precedent.
Costa Rica subsequently withdrew the application.
In May, 2008, Jacobson pleaded guilty to laundering $146 million from the illegal sale of prescription drugs through the Internet pharmacy Affpower, which operated in Costa Rica. The plea was sealed while Jacobson helped investigators with their case.
After pleading guilty, Jacobson sponsored events, and moved in social circles with Baird and Kenney and other senior Conservatives, seeking to help build ties between Canada and the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
This past summer, Andrew MacDougall, spokesman for Harper, said the prime minister’s relationship with Jacobson was minimal.
“I understand the prime minister may have met with Mr. Jacobson at a community event, as he meets thousands of Canadians from all walks of life each year,” he said in an email in July.
Rick Roth, a spokesman for Baird, had no comment Monday on why the foreign affairs minister was unaware of Jacobson’s legal problems, given that his department had refused Jacobson’s appointment several years earlier.
“Neither I or the minister were at the department in 2007, so I can’t speak to the issue,” said Rick Roth. “The minister met with Mr. Jacobson on a few occasions and was unaware of his legal problems.”
Jacobson was arrested by Toronto police and spent a week in a Toronto detention centre after the Americans requested his extradition. He was released on bail.
Neither of Jacobson’s Canadian lawyers, Michael Gordner and Howard Wolch, responded to email queries on Monday.
In October, 2011, Jacobson filed a statement of claim alleging that York Centre MP Mark Adler had failed to pay back $140,000 that Adler borrowed from him for his Economic Club.
Adler, who claimed the money was a gift in a statement of defence, didn’t respond to an email Monday inquiring whether he has settled the lawsuit.