NEWS

Quebec story of the year: The corruption inquiry

01/01/2013 08:18 EST | Updated 03/03/2013 05:12 EST
In fewer than 12 months, the political landscape in Quebec has transformed, in no small part due to the fallout of testimony the Charbonneau commission and raids by the province's anti-corruption unit.

We asked you what was the top news story in Quebec in 2012, and the majority of you said the province's ongoing investigation into bid-rigging and collusion deserved that top spot.

Three mayors have stepped down from their posts, city employees have been suspended and the commission has shed light on an alleged kick back scheme that inflated contracts, siphoning millions from the public purse.

Among the dozens of documents and videos presented before the commission was tape of construction bosses — who were securing multi-million dollar contracts with the city — meeting with known members of the Montreal Mafia at the café that acted as the Rizzuto clan's social headquarters.

Those portions of the tapes, recorded over a three year period as part of the RCMP-led crack down on the Mafia dubbed Project Colisée, had not previously been made public.

The commission turned unknown construction entrepreneurs, such as Lino Zambito, and otherwise faceless bureaucrats, like Gilles Surprenant, into household names.

Zambito's frank testimony about the alleged workings of bid rigging at city hall shocked even those loosely following the daily drama unfolding on the commission's witness stand.

Surprenant's admissions about taking bribes in exchange for those lucrative contracts exposed the depths of those allegations.

The city engineer told the commission he took as much as $600,000 from colluding construction entrepreneurs for his role in the alleged scheme. He also admitted to taking a Caribbean golf vacation with reputed Montreal Mob boss, Vito Rizzuto.

While he denied all knowledge of the bid-rigging scheme, former Montreal mayor Gerald Tremblay was implicated in testimony by a former party organizer, who said the mayor turned a blind eye to illegal party fundraising.

Tremblay continued to deny any wrongdoing, but stepped down from his post in early November, citing the city's best interest.

Anti-corruption raids

As the commission continued to hear testimony, investigators with the province's anti-corruption unit (UPAC) continued to make arrests and execute search warrants at high-profile locations, including at the home and financial institutions of former Laval mayor, Gilles Vaillancourt.

Like Tremblay, Vaillancourt eventually stepped down from his post, but maintained that he was not involved in any financial misdeeds.

In total, UPAC executed 450 search warrants and made 49 arrests in 2012. Among those arrested were construction magnate Tony Acurso, charged with fraud and conspiracy, the former mayor of Mascouche, Richard Marcotte, and the former head of Montreal's executive committee, Frank Zampino.

Beyond municipal contracts

UPAC, which focused much of its efforts in 2012 on the workings of municipalities, will turn its attention to the province and beyond in 2013.

Robert Lafrenière, the head of the anti-corruption unit, confirmed that some of UPAC's 22 active investigations extend beyond the borders of Quebec.

"Some stratagems are made in other places, other countries, and exported to us. We're speaking about the Mafia," he said in December.

The Charbonneau commission, whose full report is due in fall 2013, will continue to hear testimony when hearings resume on Jan. 21.

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