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Montreal's new mayor in hot water

Vowed to clean up city hall, now charged in bribery case

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/6/2013 (1525 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

MONTREAL -- The Montreal replacement mayor who recently took office amid a corruption scandal and who promised to restore public trust has now been arrested in a bribery case.

Mayor Michael Applebaum was picked up at his home Monday by Quebec's anti-corruption unit as part of a broader investigation into construction deals involving Mafia-linked figures and a public official who recently committed suicide.

Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum sits in a police car after his arrest Monday.


Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum sits in a police car after his arrest Monday.

Applebaum faces 14 charges, including fraud, conspiracy, breach of trust and corruption in municipal affairs, prompting widespread demands for his resignation.

Just seven months ago, Applebaum rose to his role by promising to lead Montreal out of its era of sleaze. In a skilful bit of political manoeuvring last fall, he courted support from different parties and was elected by council on an interim basis to replace Gerald Tremblay.

'We can no longer tolerate these reprehensible acts committed towards the management of our public institutions'-- Robert Lafreniere, head of the Quebec provincial police anti-corruption squad

Applebaum had pledged not to run in the upcoming election, slated for November, but his interim appointment was enough to make history: He became the city's first anglophone mayor in 100 years.

Signs of trouble surfaced soon afterward. Anti-corruption officials raided Montreal's city hall in February. They also targeted offices in various boroughs, including the one Applebaum represented for many years.

"We can no longer tolerate these reprehensible acts committed towards the management of our public institutions," said Robert Lafreniere, head of the provincial police anti-corruption squad, at a Monday news conference.

Also arrested Monday was a former employee of the Harper government.

Saulie Zajdel was a Conservative election candidate in 2011. After narrowly losing his bid to give Montreal its first Tory seat in a quarter-century, Zajdel was subsequently hired by a minister's office to work on ethnic outreach.

Zajdel now faces five charges, including bribery, breach of trust, fraud and corruption. He had been nicknamed the "shadow" MP, as the Tories hoped to gain a foothold in Liberal Irwin Cotler's Montreal riding.

The Montreal charges stem from alleged acts that occurred between 2006 and 2011, before Applebaum became mayor. While officials offered few details, they said they relate to real-estate projects in the west-end borough Applebaum led.

Police said they suspect bribes were paid to influence zoning and permit decisions. They said the transactions were worth "tens of thousands of dollars." They would not say what figures were suspected of doing the bribing.

An investigative report by the French CBC said the third man arrested Monday, borough official Jean-Yves Bisson, once admitted in an interview he discussed a local condo project with Mafia-linked businessman Antonio Magi and Nick Rizzuto Jr., the since-murdered son of reputed don Vito Rizzuto.

On a related note, police confirmed Monday a recent suicide at the borough offices was part of the broader city-hall investigation.

Lafreniere was asked whether Robert Rousseau, a permits-and-inspections official at the Cote-des-Neiges-NDG borough who killed himself in March, was part of the case, and he said yes.

At the time of Rousseau's death, the French CBC reported police had interrogated him the previous day about the same condo project his colleague admitted to having discussed with Nick Rizzuto Jr. Before Rizzuto was gunned down in late 2009, he worked in construction.

Applebaum's city-hall allies -- including the leader of the main opposition party, who last fall joined his coalition administration -- are asking him to resign immediately.

So is the provincial government. "Given the circumstances, it would be preferable for him to withdraw from his current role," Premier Pauline Marois told a news conference.

-- The Canadian Press


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