10/19/2012 11:52 EDT | Updated 12/19/2012 05:12 EST

Mtl. opposition demands mayor quit over former engineer's admission

The City of Montreal's executive committee chairman said he was "disgusted" by the admissions of a former city engineer who said he accepted nearly $600,000 in kickbacks.

Michael Applebaum said the actions of retired engineer Gilles Surprenant were unacceptable. Surprenant told the province's corruption inquiry yesterday that he received the money from construction bosses over a 10-year period.

"We're talking about an employee of the City of Montreal who collaborated with bandits," he said. "They stole money from our taxpayers, and I don't accept it."

Montreal mayor Gerald Tremblay has denied any knowledge of the kickback scheme, but has not commented publicly on Surprenant's testimony.

His absence Friday left opposition councillors fuming and calling for the mayor to step down.

"We believe that Gerald Tremblay has lost all credibility," said Projet Montréal councillor Alex Norris.

Louise Harel, the leader of Vision Montréal, said testimony at the construction inquiry shows that a system of bid-rigging exists at Montreal city hall.

"Mr. Surprenant is not only a one-man show," Harel said. "He is also a member of a system. I accuse the Tremblay administration."

Surprenant handed over a total of $122,800 in cash to investigators at the Charbonneau commission on Aug. 31.

He told the commission that was what was left of about $600,000 he received over close to two decades, detailing how he spent some of the money at the Montreal casino and lent some of it to an entrepreneur, who later repaid it.

Former construction boss Lino Zambito also completed his explosive testimony at the Charbonneau commission this week.

According to Zambito's testimony, 2.5 per cent of the value of rigged municipal contracts went to the Italian Mafia; three per cent went to the Montreal mayor's political party; one per cent was a bribe to Surprenant and other gifts and cash went to other officials.

Surprenant testified that he participated in the scheme because he felt intimidated by the businessmen involved.

Applebaum refused to accept that, saying the former engineer could have gone to a superiors or one of the city lawyers.

He said the city has 29,000 employees and, like any business, there are certain people who will try and exploit the system.

But there are measures in place to fight corruption and collusion, Applebaum said.

City officials said they have asked their legal departments to look into Surprenant's testimony, to see if there is a way to recoup some of the money he admits to having received.