The scandal hit headlines when an auditor-general's report found millions of dollars in a national unity fund had been diverted to Liberal-friendly advertising firms to promote federalism in Quebec following the narrow defeat of a separatist referendum in the French-speaking province.

The scandal outraged the public when it was uncovered in 2002 and contributed to the Liberal Party's loss of its majority in parliament after federal elections last June.

Calling it an "unjustifiable mess", the prime minister on Thursday pledged to call an election within 30 days of an inquiry report on the scandal.

"Those who are in power are to be held responsible, and that includes me. I was the minister of finance and knowing what I have learned in the past year, I am sorry that I was not more vigilant," Martin said. 

"Those who have violated the public trust will be identified and will pay the consequences."

Martin was finance minister under then-prime minister Jean Chretien when the corruption was alleged to have occurred.

Final report

The final report on allegations of money laundering and kickbacks within the Liberal Party is due on 15 December.

Justice John Gomery is overseeing an ongoing federal inquiry in Montreal concerning allegations of kickbacks and money laundering by Liberals during Chretien's leadership.

"Let Judge Gomery do his work," Martin said in taped speeches in English and French. "If so much as a dollar is found to have made its way into the Liberal Party for ill-gotten gains, it will be repaid to the people of Canada. I want no part of that money."

The scandal has riled Canadians and prompted the opposition Conservative Party to threaten a no-confidence vote that could bring down the government and trigger a new election.