03/22/2013 08:00 EDT | Updated 05/22/2013 05:12 EDT

Quebec election watchdog could punish parties, seek refund of illicit cash

MONTREAL - Quebec political parties could be asked to reimburse money they received through fake donations, according the provincial elections watchdog.

The Director General of Elections Quebec announced late Friday that it had sent a notice to three provincial parties and nine municipal ones.

It said it was investigating to determine which donations were phoney and said it could ask parties to reimburse the ones they received in the last five years.

The statement was vague on procedural details — like how the DGEQ would determine what level of funds was owed, how it would go about obtaining the repayment, and how long the process might take.

It is illegal for companies to donate to political parties in Quebec, and illegal for individuals to donate beyond certain amounts.

But an ongoing corruption inquiry has heard that the law was routinely flouted.

One engineering executive this week explained how his company, Dessau Inc., created fake sales bills in order to get cash from other companies, and transferred that cash to individuals who used it to make political donations.

Rosaire Sauriol said the company gave the provincial Liberals and Parti Quebecois more than $1 million between 1998 and 2010 — about 60 per cent of which went to the Liberals. On a personal level, Sauriol frequently donated to the now-defunct ADQ.

An executive at SNC-Lavalin also described how his company reimbursed employees who made political donations — although the company insists that in the judgment of its lawyers the practice was not illegal at the time.

Political fundraising laws have since been tightened in the province, to more explicitly forbid reimbursing people for donations and to lower the donation limit to $100 a year.