Former Montreal city manager accused of corruption at Quebec inquiry
Published Tuesday, October 2, 2012 11:53AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, October 2, 2012 4:10PM EDT
A former Montreal city manager who was once favoured by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s top aide to head up the Port of Montreal is the latest figure being accused of taking part in kickback schemes during testimony at Quebec’s corruption inquiry.
During his third day of testimony at the Charbonneau commission, former construction company owner Lino Zambito alleged that Robert Abdallah, then a top city manager, persuaded him through a municipal engineer to use a specific piping firm for a major sewer contract in 2005.
The piping from that company was more expensive and Abdallah pocketed the extra cash, Zambito alleged. Zambito said he was assured that he would be compensated for participating in the scheme.
Port of Montreal board members have said that Harper’s former director of communications, Dimitri Soudas, once tried to persuade them to appoint Abdallah to lead the port. Someone else was eventually chosen for the job.
Abdallah denied Zambito’s claims in interviews with local media Tuesday. The allegations against him have not been proven.
“We have no comment on the allegations made against former City of Montreal staff,” a spokesperson for the prime minister’s office told The Canadian Press.
Meanwhile,the Quebec provincial police force confirmed Tuesday it is protecting Zambito because his explosive testimony at the corruption inquiry could put his life at risk.
Zambito, the former owner of the now-defunct Infrabec, is under the protection of the police, along with his home, his restaurant and his father's home, CTV Montreal reports.
Zambito is a star witness at the Charbonneau commission, and has claimed that many people working in Montreal's City Hall were corrupt, with senior employees demanding a cut of municipal contracts.
On Monday, Zambito testified that three per cent of all contracts he was awarded by the City of Montreal went to Mayor Gerald Tremblay’s party, Union Montreal.
Zambito told the inquiry that he began making the payouts in 2005, and the money was earmarked for Tremblay’s re-election campaign.
Tremblay has denied any knowledge of the payoffs, saying his conscience is clear.
Zambito said he handed the cash over to Nicolo Milioto, who had informed him of the political fundraising system. Milioto, a construction boss himself who has been identified as a liaison with Montreal’s Rizzuto family, can be seen on police surveillance video sharing piles of money with Quebec mobsters.
Last spring, Quebec provincial police arrested several members of Tremblay’s entourage, including his chief fundraiser Bernard Trepanier, who was known by the nickname “Mr. Three Per Cent.” It is unclear if he was the point man between Milioto and Union Montreal.
Toronto lawyer Leo Adler told CTV News Channel on Tuesday that Tremblay himself has not been accused of taking bribes.
"I think the main point that came out yesterday was the allegation that the payment was made to a third party. It wasn't made directly to the mayor of Montreal, whether he knew what was going on in his party remains to be seen," Adler said.
While the inquiry is not a criminal proceeding and has no ability to lay charges, Adler said the damning allegations could taint Tremblay's legacy if he does not take offensive action to protect his reputation.
"In the criminal court the burden would lie on the prosecution (to prove his guilt.) In the court of public opinion the burden probably does lie on him. He's splattered by this so he has to take a public relations offensive, whether this ever ends up in a criminal court though remains to be seen," Adler said.
Witnesses at the inquiry are granted immunity, and the evidence they provide cannot be used against them, Adler said. However, investigators or prosecutors are likely to take the evidence given in court, and attempt to corroborate it through their own investigations. That could result in future charges.
The commission itself cannot issue punishment or discipline, however.
"The commission can simply pass it on to the authorities. They're going to make recommendations, assuming this is true, they're going to say here's the type of procedure that has to be put in place to make sure this type of bid-rigging is not carried on any more, and that's the best they can do," Adler said.
With files from The Canadian Press