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Former provincial police brass in court on fraud, theft, breach of trust charges

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MONTREAL - Four former high-ranking Quebec provincial police officers facing charges of fraud, theft and breach of trust appeared in court through their lawyers on Thursday.

The accused are former chief Richard Deschenes and three of his assistants — Steven Chabot, Alfred Tremblay and Jean Audette.

They are charged with fraud and breach of trust in the performance of their duties and stealing more than $5,000 from the Quebec government and the provincial police force.

The four are accused of awarding themselves severance pay from a fund that was earmarked for criminal investigations.

The charges, initially filed in late January, alleged the acts committed by Deschenes, Chabot and Tremblay were committed on or around March 17, 2010, while those by Audette are alleged to have taken place between Oct. 27, 2011, and Oct. 15, 2012.

Deschenes stepped down unexpectedly in October 2012 and was replaced by the Parti Quebecois government with Mario Laprise.

In December 2012, Public Security Minister Stephane Bergeron ordered an internal inquiry, creating a team of retired officers to investigate the claims the operations fund was being abused.

Bergeron said at the time he was troubled by the allegations the fund wasn't being used for its proper purpose. The money was supposed to be for undercover operations and compensation of informers.

The accused haven't decided whether they will opt for a trial by judge or jury. It's also unclear whether they will be tried together.

Philip Schneider, a defence lawyer representing Tremblay, said that decision will come later.

"We'll pick our forum at a later date but I have instructions from my client to fight this right to the very end," Schneider said outside the courtroom.

Schneider added he hasn't taken stock of the evidence against his client. The Crown handed over nearly 3,000 pages worth of documents on a disk and more evidence will be provided at the next court date on April 14.

Schneider said the accused are not likely to appear themselves until either a preliminary inquiry or the trial itself.

The Crown has had to find prosecutors who haven't worked with the accused. All four were based at provincial police headquarters in Montreal.

Two prosecutors from Quebec City are handling the case.

"In a case like this, it's important to ensure the independence of the prosecutors," said Crown spokesman Jean-Pascal Boucher.

"Consequently, the prosecutors in this case have never worked with the officers in question."

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