01/22/2013 03:38 EST | Updated 03/24/2013 05:12 EDT

Quebec Corruption Probe's Credibility Under Scrutiny


MONTREAL - Concerns about the credibility of Quebec's corruption inquiry are prompting new and uncomfortable questions about the resignation of Montreal's mayor.

A major witness at the inquiry — whose testimony led to Gerald Tremblay's resignation last fall — says he made up an anecdote he shared on the witness stand.

The revelation of some falsehoods in the testimony of former city employee Martin Dumont has cast new light on his claims about the mayor.

So did the mayor's legion of critics err in rushing him out the door? The Quebec government, for one, had urged Tremblay to reflect on his political future in the days before he quit.

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois was asked at a news conference Tuesday whether she regretted dumping Tremblay.

She called the question "harsh."

"We did not dump Mr. Tremblay,'' Marois replied. ''We asked Mr. Tremblay ... to reflect. If he had made a different decision I would have respected his decision."

"Mr. Tremblay made his decision. We did not force Mr. Tremblay to make his decision."

Marois reiterated her confidence in the inquiry.

However, the premier urged it to exercise caution because the "collateral damage" to people's reputation could be great.

The inquiry has heard multiple anecdotes about the former mayor's party having been corrupt, with witnesses describing how construction companies used illegal donations as a kickback in exchange for receiving public contracts.

Such payoffs were part of a broader scheme in which the value of contracts was allegedly inflated — with the extra cash split between the Union Montreal party, corrupt bureaucrats, construction bosses and the Sicilian Mafia.

Dumont shared several stories about such illegal transactions at city hall. At one point, he said, the mayor heard about crooked financing within his party and did nothing about it.

The allegation was politically devastating to Tremblay, who had always maintained his ignorance of such schemes.

Dumont has not recanted the part of his testimony that referred to Tremblay.

But the inquiry is dealing with turmoil surrounding his overall appearance. Much of Tuesday's hearing was spent dealing with his supposed lie about a receptionist for the municipal party being forced to count $850,000 in presumably illegal cash donations.

Dumont was later caught on video admitting that he falsely implicated a young woman in the anecdote. Now he's challenging that detail, too. His lawyer is arguing that the videotaped confession is inadmissible and is accusing inquiry lawyers of obtaining the confession through trickery and by violating his legal rights.

His lawyer, Suzanne Gagne, is heading to Quebec Superior Court to have the video confession set aside.

She wants the inquiry to only consider his testimony before the commissioners. To the best of his knowledge, she says, he did have a conversation with someone about counting money — although he can't say who.

Given the conflicting stories from Dumont, other lawyers want a crack at Dumont too: attorneys for the City of Montreal and for the Union Montreal party want to cross-examine him.

The two days spent discussing the Dumont controversy have cut into precious time, as the commission has its October 2013 deadline fast approaching.

The committee has yet to hear from numerous witnesses and has nine months to wrap up its hearings and produce a report.

The inquiry resumed Monday after a seven-week delay, which was used to hire additional staff and interview further witnesses.

Meanwhile, Marois sidestepped a question Tuesday about creating a permanent commission — an idea floated by Quebec Liberal leadership candidate Pierre Moreau.

Marois called such a discussion "premature."

The rest of Tuesday's hearing was spent with a Quebec provincial police officer discussing the details of a Montreal construction project that led to charges against some of the city's highest-ranking officials.

That testimony was placed under a publication ban as the case is headed to trial in the near future.

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