05/21/2013 02:51 EDT | Updated 07/21/2013 05:12 EDT

Quebec political party suspends MNA amid illegal financing allegations

QUEBEC - Quebec's Coalition party, which promises a zero-tolerance approach to political corruption, has suddenly suspended one of its own members.

Legislature member Daniel Ratthe has been punted from the party caucus amid allegations he engaged in illegal financing back when he was in municipal politics.

He says he did nothing wrong in that 2005 mayoral bid and hopes he can be vindicated and re-enter caucus as quickly as possible.

Ratthe was suspended when Coalition Leader Francois Legault learned he had met earlier Tuesday with investigators from the Charbonneau Commission looking into corruption in Quebec's construction industry.

The Coalition leader described the allegations as "extremely serious."

He said Ratthe was told by the investigators that a witness "was going to testify before the commission that he had given cash to an organizer in Mr. Ratthe's campaign to be mayor of Blainville in 2005."

Ratthe was defeated in that Montreal-area suburban race, but was elected to the legislature under the Parti Quebecois banner in 2008. He joined the new Coalition party in 2012.

While Ratthe insisted he had done nothing wrong, Legault said he asked him to leave the party's caucus "until a light has been shone on the allegations of the witness."

"We can leave no doubts (about ethical matters)," Legault told a news conference.

"With Mr. Jacques Duchesneau, we have been very clear — we have zero tolerance and we must set an example."

Duchesneau, a former Montreal police chief, was also a high-profile anti-corruption investigator in Quebec before being elected as a member of the Coalition party in last year's election.

The party has since cast itself as the standard-bearer in the fight to clean up Quebec politics.

It's the second time Ratthe has been expelled from a party caucus in 18 months. He was booted out of the PQ in 2011 for talking to a rival party, shortly before switching to the Coalition.

Ratthe says he's been told that the sum in question was paid to one of his organizers during the 2005 campaign.

"Never — and I mean never — did I witness an illegal contribution," Ratthe told a news conference.

"I learned about it this morning."

He said he had called on other politicians to step aside in the past, when they were faced with similar allegations, and he wanted to be consistent.

He said he contacted Legault immediately after learning of the allegation. Next, he said, he will wait while the Charbonneau inquiry continues its work.