The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Port of Montreal awarded millions to construction firm under investigation

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OTTAWA - The secret recordings that shook up this spring's federal election campaign seemed straight out of a cop show, purporting to feature two construction bosses scheming over how to get the right person appointed president of the Port of Montreal.

But just why was the federally controlled port so important to that city's construction industry?

The answer might lie partly in the lucrative contracts doled out by the Port. A newly released document shows that companies run by Tony Accurso and Bernard Poulin were awarded deals worth millions.

Simard-Beaudry Construction Inc. and Louisbourg Construction Inc. — two of the biggest firms run by Accurso — received more than $12 million in contracts from the Port of Montreal between 2007 and 2010.

One $5.5 million contract to Louisbourg in 2009 was awarded only a few months after Revenue Canada took those companies to court for massive tax evasion. The companies were convicted late last year and fined $4 million, and are now being probed by the province's construction licensing agency and Revenue Quebec.

Revenue Quebec lost a bid in Quebec's superior court Thursday to gain access to evidence collected by Revenue Canada on Accurso's firms.

S.M. Groupe International, whose president is Poulin, received $209,138 in contracts through the same period.

A summary of the contracts awarded was released to The Canadian Press under Access to Information legislation. The Port of Montreal did not respond to a request for comment about the tendering process and whether the Revenue Canada probe was taken into account. There is no suggestion of illegality.

"How were these contracts given out, was the call for tenders process respected, was this another case of gifts given to the friends of Mr. Harper?" said NDP Treasury Board critic Alexandre Boulerice.

"We've seen it in other cases...so I think it's troubling to say the least."

Poulin's spokesman, Roch Landriault, said the contracts were "obtained by presenting proposals to tendering offers prepared by the Port of Montreal without any intervention from anyone at the Port of Montreal on behalf of Groupe SM." He added that the amount of the contracts is consistent with those obtained in previous years.

In the mysterious and unverified recordings released last April on YouTube, men purported to be Accurso and Poulin discussed how they could influence an appointment to the Port of Montreal in 2007. Neither man has denied the telephone call took place.

"There's an appointment coming up at the Port, and he wants us to put someone in, that there's someone who will work for the development of Montreal," says the voice purported to be Poulin, referring to a third associate.

The voices also discuss how a senior aide to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Dimitri Soudas, could help them and be rewarded for his efforts. The name of Conservative Senator Leo Housakos, a friend of Soudas, is raised as a go-between.

"I'm going to start talking to him, if you want, if he's ready to put his buddy Soudas in the mix," Poulin purportedly says. "His buddy Soudas, he can twist arms harder than anyone else."

Soudas has already acknowledged that he did make the government's "preference" for former City of Montreal executive Robert Abdallah known to the members of the Port's board, but he has denied ever speaking to Accurso or Poulin about the matter or receiving any kickbacks.

"I can't speak to private discussions of individuals but ... it is crystal clear, anyone who wants to influence the Prime Minister's Office, they will find the door padlocked,'' Soudas said in April.

Abdallah was ultimately not named president, nor was he named a member of the board two years later when pressure was reportedly exerted once again by the Transport minister's office.

Abdallah went on to work for one of Accurso's companies, Gastier.

When asked for comment about the recordings and the contracts, Accurso's lawyer refused a request for an interview.

But Louis Demers "strongly suggested" that The Canadian Press "understand and respect" sections of the Criminal Code that bar the illegal recording, broadcast and usage of private conversations.

Landriault said commenting on a conversation that was illegally recorded would be illegal itself.

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