The first whistleblower at Quebec’s corruption inquiry rolled out a breathtaking array of allegations in his latest testimony, picking off a half dozen cities, Quebec’s Ministry of Transport and every major political party with accusations of collusion, kickbacks and illegal financing.
Lino Zambito, the former construction boss, aimed his most specific allegations at ex-Liberal cabinet minister Line Beauchamp and Laval Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, both accused of benefiting from cash payments by construction magnates.
Mr. Zambito said Liberal operative Pierre Bibeau, the then-spouse of environment minister Line Beauchamp, collected $30,000 in cash from Mr. Zambito for a single 2009 breakfast fundraiser. That’s a sum 10 times the allowed annual contribution in the province. Mr. Zambito said he used the encounter to complain environmental assessments were slowing down projects.
Mr. Zambito testified that Mr. Bibeau took the cash at his office at Loto-Québec, the provincial gaming agency where he is a vice-president. Mr. Bibeau “denounced” the allegations against him in a statement issued late Monday. “Inestimable damage has been done to me, along with all those facing an accusatory pointed finger without due process,” he said, adding that he is seeking legal advice about his next step.
Mr. Zambito has testified that such donations were routine in a system of kickbacks, bribes and fixed bids that allowed companies to collude in inflating prices and send money back to elected officials, political parties, bureaucrats and the mob up to 2009.
He described how he enlisted friends, family and company employees to funnel thousands of dollars in donations to the Parti Québécois and the now-defunct Action démocratique du Québec – although the Liberals received by far the greatest portion of the illegal money. Those donations were meant to look legal while thick envelopes of cash were passed to Liberals and officials at Montreal and Laval City Hall with no pretense of legitimacy, he said.
Mr. Zambito said Mr. Vaillancourt, the Laval mayor, took a 2.5-per-cent cut of every construction contract in Laval – the same percentage demanded by Montreal mobsters for projects in their territory.
But Mr. Zambito acknowledged later that he did not have firsthand knowledge of the systematic payments because he only received a few contracts in Laval, where he was required instead to pay flat rates of $25,000 and $150,000.
“In Laval, it was clear the cut was 2.5 per cent that entrepreneurs gave to the mayor of Laval, Mr. Vaillancourt, through an intermediary,” testified Mr. Zambito.
Mr. Vaillancourt denied collecting any amounts on city contracts. His spokeswoman, Johanne Bournival, said the mayor “is beside himself in the face of such lies. He wants to pass along that he didn’t accept such money from anyone,” she said.
Mr. Vaillancourt also denied any wrongdoing earlier this month when his home and Laval City Hall were searched by the province’s anti-corruption squad.
Mr. Zambito described how at its peak around 2005, his company, Infrabec, was hauling in about $30-million in revenue while kicking back hundreds of thousands in cash to dozens of corrupt officials and engineering firms to get business in cities as large as Montreal and as small as Mascouche.
Massive Transport Ministry contracts to rebuild freeways and interchanges were rigged, he said. Fake bills sloshed around cash that was sent back to engineering firms contracted by the province to run the projects.
A constant theme in Mr. Zambito’s six days of testimony has been the role played by engineering firms in organizing the system. Those firms are expected to come under closer scrutiny as the commission continues.
Mr. Zambito, whose company went bankrupt shortly after some of his activities were exposed by a team of Radio-Canada investigative reporters in the fall of 2009, gave an extended sermon blaming the system for the illegal activities of dozens of people, including himself.
“I was no angel,” Mr. Zambito said. “I rigged contracts, I financed political parties, I corrupted bureaucrats, but the system was constructed such that you had no choice. If you wanted to work in those days, you had to go along.”
Testimony at the Charbonneau commission into corruption cannot be used in criminal trials. Mr. Zambito is facing fraud and collusion charges related to the construction of a water-treatment plant in the Montreal bedroom community of Boisbriand.