QUEBEC - An embattled former Quebec Liberal cabinet minister, charged with fraud and awaiting trial, announced Thursday that he is quitting politics.
Tony Tomassi said in a statement that his departure is effective immediately. The former Liberal minister has been seldom seen in Quebec City since criminal charges were laid last year.
The former family minister was forced to resign in 2010 after allegations surfaced he had been using a credit card provided by a company that had received millions in government contracts.
Tomassi, 41, faces charges of fraud and breach of trust stemming from the accusation that he accepted material rewards from a security company that gained lucrative government contracts.
Tomassi was ejected from the Liberal caucus in May 2010 and had been sitting as an independent until Thursday. But he had been best known in recent months for not showing up at the provincial legislature since being charged.
"Throughout the years I have proudly served the voters of LaFontaine and I am grateful for the confidence they have repeatedly shown me on three occasions since 2003," Tomassi said in a statement.
"In all circumstances, I have tried to remain a member who was present in the district, accessible and responsive to citizens."
Even before the criminal allegations, Tomasssi had been under fire from the opposition, facing accusations of rampant cronyism in the distribution of permits for $7-a-day day care spaces. He was in charge of running that famous Quebec social program, which fell under his portfolio.
Tomassi was last seen in the national assembly last fall. That's when the Crown charged him with two counts of fraud and one count of breach of trust. The incidents are alleged to have taken place between November 2007 and May 2010.
Last November, Tomassi's spokesman said he preferred to stay away from the legislature and feared attacks from the opposition.
According to the Quebec Taxpayers League, Tomassi won't leave empty-handed. In addition to the annual salary he was collecting, the organization estimates that Tomassi is now in line to receive a severance package of about $122,000.
"In the case of Mr. Tomassi this is particularly shocking given his absence since his expulsion from the Liberal caucus," said Claire Joly, of the league.
One of the opposition parties in Quebec City called Tomassi's absence unreasonable. The Coalition for Quebec's Future (CAQ) filed a complaint with the ethics commissioner last week.
Eric Caire, the CAQ member who filed the complaint, said Thursday that Tomassi's departure was a sign he could no longer do his job.
"It's the only decent thing he could do given the circumstances," Caire said. "However I find it unfortunate that he waited two years to do it."
The ethics code states that members must be in attendance and cannot be absent without just cause.