Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Corruption bombshell in Quebec

Report links mob, politicians, construction companies

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MONTREAL -- Two years of pent-up scandal in Quebec has erupted with news of a web of corruption implicating the construction industry, political parties and criminal groups such as the Mafia.

The reported scam involves crooked civil servants colluding with construction companies and helping them find loopholes in the tendering process, allowing them to charge more for public-works contracts.

The companies, allegedly tied to the Mob and biker gangs, would use some of that extra profit to pump contributions into the coffers of political parties.

Those sensational conclusions were reportedly outlined in a document produced by the province's new anti-corruption task force and leaked to Quebec media outlets.

The news was greeted as a bombshell. While the province has, over the last two years, become used to allegations of systemic rot in the public tendering process, it has not seen them emerge on such a scale and from such a source.

The anti-corruption unit is led by a former Montreal police chief and was created by the provincial government amid scandals over the last two years.

The reactions Thursday were swift and the potential reverberations wide-ranging.

Quebec's elections watchdog immediately announced plans to probe deeper, saying the allegations represent a setback after 30 years of efforts to clean up political financing.

One small opposition party, Quebec solidaire, said Premier Jean Charest has three options: call a public inquiry, hold an election, or resign.

Another opposition leader summed it up, not so much as a surprise, but as a depressing truth.

"Our worst fears are confirmed," said the Action democratique du Quebec's Gerald Deltell.

"It's right there, in black and white, written by an investigator who is beyond all reproach, who says a system exists in Quebec... that winds up inflating price tags to launder money and then finance political parties."

First to report on the contents of the study were Radio-Canada, the French-language CBC, late Wednesday, and Montreal La Presse in a front-page report Thursday with the following headline: Mafia, Bikers and Cartels.

La Presse quotes the document as saying that, even after two years of scandals, the level of corruption uncovered was on an "unexpected scale."

According to another quote from the document, the scope of corruption is so massive that it risks "usurping certain functions of the state."

Opposition parties have been demanding a public inquiry, but the government has stood its ground and insisted a massive police dragnet is the best way to handle the crisis.

These latest revelations have prompted a slew of renewed calls for such a probe. There's little indication the Charest government might yield to that pressure.

Quebec Transport Minister Pierre Moreau said the public release could tip off suspects that police are on to them.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 16, 2011 A17

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