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Elections Act acquittals overturned

CRANBROOK, B.C. - A British Columbia judge has overturned two acquittals for a former Conservative MP's campaign official who was charged with several Elections Act violations, though it's not clear whether the Crown will attempt to pursue the charges again.

Harvey Venier, who acted as the official agent for former MP Jim Abbott, was charged with five offences related to bank accounts and finance reports from the 2006 and 2008 federal elections.

He stood trial last September, when he was acquitted of four counts related to various reporting requirements. He pleaded guilty to a fifth charge, failing to open a separate bank account for the election and received an absolute discharge.

Venier was never accused of any financial impropriety, but rather failing to comply with provisions related to reporting and transparency.

The federal Crown appealed the acquittals on two of the counts, arguing the judge was wrong when he concluded there was no evidence to support those charges.

The two counts under appeal included: a charge that Venier failed to dispose of surplus funds from the 2006 election, and a charge that he submitted a "false electoral campaign return" after the 2008 election.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has set aside those acquittals. However, the ruling questions whether it would make sense to proceed with a new trial against Venier.

"The Crown is entitled to an order for a new trial on those two counts, but may wish to consider whether to proceed any further in all of the circumstances of this case, having achieved its purpose in upholding the scheme of the act," Judge Christopher Grauer wrote in a decision posted to the court's website on Wednesday.

Todd Gerhart, the lawyer who handled the appeal for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, said it was too early to say what the Crown will do next.

Venier's lawyer couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

Abbott has since retired from politics and did not run in the 2011 election, when he was replaced by Conservative David Wilks.

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