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Businessman Joe Borsellino, head of Garnier Construction, testifies at the Charbonneau inquiry in Montreal on Feb. 6, 2013. (RYAN REMIORZ/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Businessman Joe Borsellino, head of Garnier Construction, testifies at the Charbonneau inquiry in Montreal on Feb. 6, 2013. (RYAN REMIORZ/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Quebec construction boss pleads poor memory over cash transfer Add to ...

For two days, the construction boss caught on video delivering cash to the headquarters of the Rizzuto crime family has lurked in the back row of the Charbonneau inquiry, watching another boss, Joe Borsellino, confess to bribing public officials while playing down links to the mob.

Nicolo Milioto, or Mr. Sidewalk as he became known in Quebec for allegedly threatening to bury an enemy under one, was videotaped by investigators hauling money into a back room at Café Consenza in 2004 and 2005. Onetime godfather Nicolo Rizzuto would split the money with underlings and stuff his share into his socks.

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Investigators tracked Mr. Borsellino to the same café during that period, but with Mr. Milioto looking on at the Charbonneau inquiry Wednesday, the construction boss testified that his only interest there was coffee. The Rizzutos are passing acquaintances, he said. His only business in the back of the building (where the cash was delivered) was to use the bathroom. His only cash transactions at the café (other than buying coffee) were to contribute to fundraising efforts for the homeland he shares with the Rizzutos, a small town in Sicily called Cattolica Eraclea.

Mr. Borsellino has proven a difficult witness. Mafia infiltration in the construction business may be well-established in the inquiry, but it is only a rumour to Mr. Borsellino. He remembered few meetings or transactions unless confronted with documentation. In one instance that angered commission counsel, he could not remember depositing $1.8-million into a bank account until deposit slips were produced.

Violence in Mr. Borsellino’s past may help explain his poor memory, he suggested.

In July of 2009, Mr. Borsellino was sitting in his Montreal-area office when three men burst in and beat him so badly surgeons had to rebuild his face in a seven-hour operation.

Later, while recovering in hospital, Mr. Borsellino said, he racked his brain trying to figure out why he was the target.

“I was in my hospital bed, asking myself, ‘What have I done?’” Mr. Borsellino testified. He didn’t complain to police, saying he wasn’t sure what he’d complain about. Justice France Charbonneau pressed Mr. Borsellino to explain why a simple businessman would be targeted for a bloody beating.

“I might have a couple small ideas. Maybe I didn’t settle an account. Maybe I was on the wrong job,” he answered, avoiding more detailed follow-up questions. He called the assault “an accident” that had done some damage to his memory.

But it is not clear Mr. Borsellino was always a victim. Like Mr. Milioto, other witnesses have accused him of threatening them to secure contracts.

While a political organizer testified last fall that Mr. Milioto threatened to bury him under a sidewalk if asked questions about a contract, Mr. Borsellino admitted he once posted a man in a truck at the entryway of a rival’s job site.

Justice Charbonneau accused him of trying to intimidate a competitor.

“Intimidation is not the word I would use,” Mr. Borsellino said. “It’s business.”

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