The former construction boss who has riled Quebec with testimony about a rampant graft in his industry is making one of his most stunning accusations yet.
Lino Zambito, who has been testifying at the Charbonneau inquiry into corruption in the awarding of public contracts, told CBC's French-language news service that he paid a bribe destined for the mayor of Laval in exchange for allowing his company to bill extra for road work.
Zambito says he handed over $25,000 in cash to a person close to Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt after the city authorized $400,000 in extra costs for Infrabec Construction's work on extending Cléroux Boulevard, in southwest Laval.
The contract, awarded in 2003, was originally for $2 million, but Zambito's company put in for contingency payments. He said an employee of the engineering consulting firm Gendron-Lefebvre, someone with ties to Vaillancourt, talked to him about it.
"He told me that if I wanted the extra costs taken care of, it would cost me $25,000 for Mayor Vaillancourt," the former Infrabec vice-president and co-owner recounted to Radio-Canada.
Zambito said he forked over the money "once I'd been paid by the city."
"It was clear that it was going to Mr. Vaillancourt. There was no inferral or misunderstanding. It was clear the money was going to him," he said.
Vaillancourt denies receiving any money from Zambito.
Broke into Laval market
The interview was taped last spring, weeks before the start of the Charbonneau commission hearings.
Since then, Vaillancourt has come under fire. Two of his homes were raided by Quebec's anti-corruption squad last week, while City Hall and several other municipal buildings were also searched for documents.
Investigators pounced again on Thursday, raiding at least six construction companies in Laval, the suburban municipality north of Montreal.
All the companies are among the top recipients of infrastructure and road-work contracts in the city, and at least one of them has ties to the mayor via a real-estate project that they jointly owned.
No charges have been filed in connection with those searches.
Normally, Zambito said, public contracting in Laval was a rigged affair controlled by a small clique of firms that didn’t include his. But for the Cléroux Boulevard work, he managed to crack the cabal.
He said he met Vaillancourt at the opening of a furniture store owned by the mayor's family. Zambito recalled Vaillancourt telling him, "Your job is coming. The guys will call you."
When he later spoke to those in charge at other companies, they had been briefed and were ready to let him win the bidding process for the road-work contract.
"The guys who were part of the select club in Laval were in the know. When I called them, everything was good. I didn't have any problems," the former construction executive said. "The ground had been laid."
Zambito has delivered a series of explosive allegations since he started testifying at the Charbonneau inquiry two weeks ago.
His major contention is that for years, a group of less than a dozen construction companies rigged the bidding process on City of Montreal sewer and water-main work, deciding ahead of time who would win the tender and at what price.
The companies, he has testified, paid a three per cent cut of the value of their work to Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay's political party, a 2.5 per cent cut to the city's Sicilian Mafia and various kickbacks to civic engineers and bureaucrats.
None of his allegations have been proven. Tremblay and others have denied wrongdoing.
Zambito company went bankrupt last year. He scheduled to resume his testimony next week at the Charbonneau commission.