Fraud-related charges have been levelled against the former head of Quebec's provincial police service, who, along with three other former high-ranking officers, is accused of misuse of public funds.
The province's bureau of criminal and penal prosecutions confirmed on Tuesday that the former head of the Sûreté de Québec, Richard Deschêsnes, and three others are accused of dipping into a $26-million special police fund to boost their retirement packages.
Also charged are two former senior officers responsible for criminal investigations, Steven Chabot and Jean Audette, as well as a fourth high-ranking officer, Alfred Tremblay.
"The four individuals were accused of fraud, theft of an amount superior to $5,000 and breach of trust towards the Sûreté de Québec and the Quebec government," the bureau stated in a news release on Tuesday.
Concerns were raised that the latest charges at the SQ may further erode Quebeckers' confidence in their public institutions. Last fall a senior investigator with the Montreal police's organized crime unit, Benoît Roberge was charged with selling information to the Hells Angels biker gang. At the same time, the public has witnessed troubling revelations at the Charbonneau commission relating to fraud, collusion and infiltration by organized crime – all involving the use public funds.
The current head of the SQ, Mario Laprise, attempted to reassure the public, saying that several measures have been put into place to prevent similar events from occurring.
"All relevant measures related to this event have been adopted in the spirit of maintaining the highest standards of integrity within the organization and to preserve the public's confidence in their institution," Mr. Laprise said in a news release on Tuesday.
The new measures include guidelines regarding the management and use of the secret fund that was set up to pay informants and undercover police activities.
The charges at the SQ follow an investigation led by a special unit created by Public Security Minister Stéphane Bergeron in December, 2012.
Shortly after taking office, the Parti Québécois forced Mr. Deschêsnes out of his job as the SQ's director general and named Mr. Laprise to replace him. Mr. Laprise immediately launched an internal inquiry into reports of misappropriation of public funds by his predecessor. Given the sensitive nature of the allegations, Mr. Bergeron appointed a special unit of former police investigators and a prosecutor to head the internal inquiry.
"Considering the nature of the allegations, the identity of the people involved and to ensure transparency of the process it was decided that the police should not handle the investigation," Mr. Bergeron said in December, 2012.
The minister was not available for comment on Tuesday.
The four former SQ officers are scheduled to appear in court on Feb. 13.