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Alleged Montreal corruption seeped into boroughs, inquiry hears

Michel Lalonde, head of engineering firm Genius conseil (formerly Groupe Seguin), is shown in a frame grab as he testifies at the Charbonneau inquiry looking into corruption in the Quebec construction industry Wednesday, January 23, 2013 in Montreal


The rot in Montreal spread from city hall to many of the lower borough assemblies scattered across the city, according to detailed testimony by a business executive who says he paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.

The multi-tentacled beast that governs Montreal with no fewer than 103 elected officials split among the central city and borough councils created multiple opportunities for corruption and kickbacks, Quebec's Charbonneau inquiry heard on Monday.

The inquiry into corruption has already heard that money was skimmed off construction contracts for illegal political financing and bribes. On Monday, the inquiry reached into the city's semi-autonomous neighbourhood councils, which hand out their own contracts and, according to testimony, collected their own graft.

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The head of an engineering firm at the centre of a bid-rigging system on construction projects described how he not only paid routine bribes to officials of Union Montréal, the party of Gérald Tremblay, then mayor of the city, he also kicked in cash under the table to finance campaigns in boroughs in return for local contracts. To get city contracts, it was necessary to provide good service and thick wads of cash to officials, according to Michel Lalonde, president of engineering firm Génuis Conseil.

"If we don't donate, we aren't close to elected officials, if we're not close to elected officials, we won't be invited to the table. That was the context, that's how it worked at the municipal level," said Mr. Lalonde, whose firm was named Groupe Séguin in the early 2000s and gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations he admitted were illegal to secure millions of dollars in construction contracts.

Mr. Lalonde says he gave $2,000 to Michel Bissonet, the mayor of Saint-Léonard and a former Liberal speaker of the National Assembly. There was $5,000 for Montreal East mayor Yvon Labrosse in 2005, he said, and $5,000 for Robert Coutu, Mr. Labrosse's rival in the election of 2009.

Mr. Lalonde said he gave $60,000 to Cosmo Maciocia, the mayor of Rivières-des-Prairies and a former Liberal MNA, to help finance his 2005 municipal campaign in the borough, where Génius split the government contracts with another company. Mr. Lalonde said he paid in instalments, including at Mr. Maciocia's office in Montreal city hall.

Mr. Lalonde also said he gave $25,000 to the opposition Vision Montréal to hedge his bets for the 2009 election. "It gave me an exit in case there was a change," he said. He also listed several small cities outside Montreal where he gave thousands of dollars in illicit donations to secure business.

Sometimes, the payments amounted to a few thousand dollars in cash. He said, he bought hockey season tickets worth $14,000 that he would hand over to Éric Lachapelle, then director of Ahuntsic borough.

"The Canadiens won more frequently then," Mr. Lalonde said. "I was happy to do it because it was a business expense."

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This was all on top of the hundreds of thousand dollars that went to Mr. Tremblay's party, Union Montréal, according to Mr. Lalonde's earlier testimony.

While Mr. Lalonde exposed new elements of the corruption scandal at Montreal city hall, he also corroborated parts of previous testimony. He said former city manager Robert Abdallah, a man with ties to the Conservative federal government, once intervened to ensure a particular type of pipe from a supplier he favoured would be used on a construction site.

He echoed the contention of construction boss Lino Zambito who said Mr. Abdallah was in line for a share of the extra $300,000 the pipe cost. Mr. Abdallah has denied the allegation.

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