03/20/2013 15:23 EDT | Updated 05/20/2013 05:12 EDT

Tremblay was in the dark on collusion scheme, inquiry hears

Former Mayor Gérald Tremblay knew nothing a bid-rigging scheme allegedly orchestrated by the former second-in-command at Montreal City Hall, according to the vice-president of one of the largest engineering firms operating in the city.

“In my opinion, Mr. Tremblay was not aware of what was going on with the city contracts, “ Rosaire Sauriol told the province’s corruption commission.

“In reality, it wasn’t him that was managing it. It was Mr. Zampino.”

Sauriol, currently the vice-president of Dessau’s Latin American division, is detailing for the commission his meetings with elected and Union Montreal party officials during the period when the contract-rigging scheme was at its height.

The commission is going through records in Sauriol’s electronic agenda, which show dinners and events at the company’s private box at the Bell Centre which were attended by a number of City of Montreal officials.

Sauriol said former executive committee head Frank Zampino – with whom he had a close relationship, but one he has insisted was a business relationship only — was the one making the decisions when it came to which firms would win the big contracts with the city.

Sauriol’s description of the bid-rigging scheme echoed that of many of the engineering executives who have already testified before the commission.

He said the firms were allowed into a closed-market system, devised after the province passed a law that forced the municipality to accept the lowest bidder, in exchange for making donations to Zampino’s Union Montreal party.

Sauriol said that even before the calls for tenders were released, the firms knew which one of them would win each contract and with which other firms they would be partnered.

He said that scheme was managed by Union Montréal finance head, Bernard Trépanier, but he was taking orders from Zampino. Unlike the previous witnesses, Sauriol says his primary point of contact in the contract-fixing scheme was Zampino.

Other witnesses described Trépanier as the person who acted as the go-between.

Trépanier made jokes about Tremblay being in the dark about what was going on at City Hall, Sauriol confirmed.

“He wasn’t well respected,” he said.

In contrast, Zampino was “the most powerful man in Montreal,” he said.

Gifts, hockey tickets, trips

Yesterday, Sauriol told the commission yesterday he was responsible for a false-invoicing scheme at his firm that was used to free up $2 million in cash to help finance municipal and provincial political parties.

Today, he was pressed on his relationship with Zampino, who went to work for Sauriol’s firm after he left the city in 2008, and other elected officials.

Sauriol told the commission that before Bill 106 came into effect in 2002, offering perks such as free trips, hockey and concert tickets to public officials was simply the way business was done. He said that, at that time, it was those officials who ultimately decided which firms would win the contracts.

“What I’m having trouble understanding, Mr. Sauriol, is that you’re already paying a lot [in party donations] — a good amount,” commission prosecutor Denis Gallant said to the witness.

“You’re taking risks as well, because it’s essentially dirty money. Why go past the strict boundaries of business and go have dinner, go on a boat, give gifts, just to have an advantage?”

Gallant didn’t give Sauriol an opportunity to respond.

He continued to question Sauriol about his links to Zampino, Trépanier and Robert Marcil, the former head of the city’s public works department.

He said what sets Sauriol apart from the other engineering executives that have described the system is his “proximity” to politicians.

“When you’re at a restaurant with Mr. Zampino… you’re higher than the others,” Gallant said.

“You’re higher than Mr. Trépanier. At City Hall, you had a lot of pull. When your secretary and the secretary of Mr. Zampino send each other documents, documents that you have before the speech of the mayor or the executive committee or before the press release. . . You’re on the right track.

“You are at the centre of a system of collusion in Montreal.”

“False,” Sauriol responded. “Totally false.”

Sauriol claimed that all of those dinners and trips and gifts were part of a “business network.”

He told the commission that “business practices evolve,” and what was acceptable in the 80s had changed by the 90s and again in the 2000s.

“To me, that’s not corruption,” he said, of the hockey tickets and invitations to events such as Céline Dion and Rolling Stones concerts.

His testimony continues tomorrow.