Another top engineer has confessed to making cash payments to Montreal’s long-time ruling party in exchange for lucrative contracts, setting the table for Thursday’s appearance at the Charbonneau Commission of a former fundraiser nicknamed “Mr. 3 Per Cent.”
The president of engineering firm BPR Inc., Pierre Lavallée, testified he was told in 2007 the only way for his Quebec City-based firm to make headway in Montreal was to pay a commission on public-works contracts to a fundraiser called Bernard Trépanier.
Mr. Lavallée admitted to paying a commission of 3 per cent on contracts in 2007 and 2008, adding he felt it was the only way to compete with companies that were more firmly established in Montreal. Over all, he said his firm made secret cash donations worth about $150,000.
“I thought it was shameful and degrading,” he said at the Charbonneau Commission into the Quebec construction industry. “We were naive, we shouldn’t have done it. But we did it.”
Mr. Lavallée was the latest in a string of high-ranking engineers to testify that Mr. Trépanier asked for six-figure donations to Union Montréal, the political party that was led by former mayor Gérald Tremblay until late last year.
Various witnesses in and around the construction industry have testified they brought envelopes of cash to Mr. Trépanier. The donors stated they felt that Mr. Trépanier was operating in conjunction with Frank Zampino, a long-time city councillor who was Mr. Tremblay’s second-in-command at City Hall and wielded much power over contracts.
Mr. Lavallée explained that like other BPR shareholders, he drew on his personal bank account to make the payments to Mr. Trépanier. He regularly withdrew amounts under $10,000 to avoid triggering the FINTRAC reporting requirements, and then gave the funds to one of his employees who acted as a go-between on the transactions.
He blamed “cowardice” for not having disclosed the scheme to law-enforcement authorities at the time, adding that his staff have now been trained to denounce all corruption attempts.
Mr. Trépanier’s lawyer, Daniel Rock, said his client has not held any meetings with the commission’s investigators or counsel to prepare for his appearance. Still, Mr. Rock said that Mr. Trépanier will answer all questions when he finally testifies in front of commissioners France Charbonneau and Renaud Lachance.
Mr. Rock said that Mr. Trépanier has been asked to appear at the inquiry on Thursday, adding his client is scheduled to be in court in a fraud case on Wednesday.
A vice-president at SNC-Lavalin, Yves Cadotte, testified last week that he provided a one-time $125,000 cash payment to Mr. Trépanier ahead of the 2005 election in Montreal, among a host of secret donations to Union Montréal.
A former vice-president at another engineering firm in Montreal, Genivar, said he personally gave large sums of cash over the years to Mr. Trépanier, ranging between $20,000 and $50,000 at a time. François Perreault explained that in exchange for the cash payments, Mr. Trépanier and Mr. Zampino organized a system in which the engineering firms distributed engineering contracts to the firms that participated in a cartel.
Michel Lalonde, president of Génius Conseil, testified in January that he gave $100,000 cash to help Mr. Tremblay win re-election in 2005, and was forced to give 3 per cent from then until 2009. Mr. Lalonde said the 3-per-cent system was set up by Mr. Trépanier in 2004 as a way to simplify under-the-table cash donations from various firms.
Another top engineer in Quebec, Dessau vice-president Rosaire Sauriol, is expected to testify as early as Tuesday, also in the lead-up to Mr. Trépanier’s scheduled appearance.