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Former Harper Aide Nigel Wright Poised for Onex Return

Nigel Wright, former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is poised to return to Onex Corp., Canada’s largest private equity firm.

“We are very hopeful that very soon Nigel will be back at Onex,” Chief Executive Officer Gerald Schwartz said yesterday in an interview. “I think that he will, and I think he will in the very near future.”

Wright, a former managing director at Canada’s largest buyout firm, took a leave of absence from Onex to become Harper’s top aide in 2011. He resigned his position in May 2013 after accepting sole responsibility for writing a C$90,000 ($82,000) check to help Canadian Senator Mike Duffy repay improperly claimed expenses.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said in April Wright would not face criminal charges in the matter. Schwartz remained loyal to Wright throughout his legal ordeal.

“He’s a wonderful person and a great talent,” Schwartz said. “He loves politics, and he did extremely well at it and he unfortunately got caught up in exactly why a lot of people never go near politics.”

Onex fell 1 percent to $66.92 at the close in Toronto today. The shares have advanced 17 percent this year compared with an 8.6 percent rise in the benchmark Standard & Poor’s/TSX Composite Index.

London Office

Wright, a Harvard-trained lawyer, negotiated a number of deals for Onex, including in the aerospace sector. He declined to comment on his plans.

Schwartz said that if his former executive does return, “he will probably start off by going to our London office.” Onex, which is making a strategic push into Europe, opened its London office two years ago. It has five executives there, including Managing Directors Tony Morgan and David Hirsch.

The move to Europe has not been without its challenges, Anthony Munk, Onex senior managing director, said at an investor day yesterday.

“The market has probably been tougher than we would have expected,” Munk said. “The European markets came back very quickly. I think our timing was very good opening the London office. But the capital markets, the equity markets in particular, have come back.”

Onex would be “happy” if it completed one transaction in Europe with its most recent private equity fund, Onex Partners IV, Munk said.

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