Alfonso Gagliano flatly denied yesterday that he had any ties to the Mafia after FBI documents emerged alleging that the embattled former minister was introduced as a "soldier" at a mob meeting in a Montreal banquet hall in the early 1990s.
The documents, obtained by The Globe and Mail, allege that New York mobster-turned-informant Frank Lino identified Mr. Gagliano after being shown a photo by the FBI.
"The individual was shown a picture of Alfonso Gagliano. The individual stated that he recognized Gagliano from his trip to Montreal," the debriefing document said.
In the Commons yesterday, the Progressive Conservative Party asked the government when it was first made aware of the allegations involving Mr. Gagliano, the former public works minister who became Canada's ambassador to Denmark in 2002.
Prime Minister Paul Martin said he hadn't been aware of the allegations until they appeared in a New York tabloid yesterday. "Let me simply say that these are very serious allegations and everyone should be very careful about accepting or in fact repeating such allegations," Mr. Martin said.
Mr. Lino told the FBI that Mr. Gagliano was present at the 1992 Montreal gathering in which New York's Bonanno crime group informed its northern allies of a new boss in the family, Joseph Massino.
In an interview, Mr. Gagliano said he never met Mr. Lino. "I never participated in any of those meetings. I don't know any of those people," he said, adding that he was completely taken by surprise by the new allegations. "I never met anybody, either in New York or in Montreal."
Mr. Gagliano told reporters that he will work to prove "his honesty and integrity" to Canadians, saying he wants to see the FBI documents in which Mr. Lino made the allegations.
The documents, which were first revealed in the New York Daily News, also allege that Mr. Gagliano socialized with Vito Rizzuto, the reputed head of the Montreal Mafia. The document says that another Mafioso, Joe LoPresti, bragged to Mr. Lino that the Montreal group had "extensive connections, including that of Gagliano, a politician."
Mr. Lino testified earlier this year against Mr. Massino, who was found guilty of racketeering.
Mr. Massino's lawyer, David Breitbart, acknowledged there is an FBI transcript that mentions Mr. Gagliano but said that there is no mention Mr. Gagliano committed a crime.
"There was no allegation that he ever committed a crime, and that's what's important," he said. "I can feel the pain of somebody being hurt, destroyed reputation-wise, by somebody like Frankie Lino who is not worthy of that kind of responsibility. He's just a lowlife."
Mr. Gagliano is already fighting opposition charges that he was responsible for mismanagement in the federal government's sponsorship program, which has been plagued by allegations of fraud and patronage.
Mr. Gagliano made national headlines in the mid-1990s when it was revealed that the RCMP blocked his planned appointment to Jean Chrétien's cabinet because his accounting firm had worked for companies owned by a Montreal crime boss later convicted of conspiracy to commit murder.
Mr. Chrétien said yesterday he relied on Canadian security services before finally admitting Mr. Gagliano to cabinet in 1994, and that they never reported any criminal links.
"If there had been [any problems] I would not have named him a cabinet minister. Both the Mounties and security services assured me of his impeccable past," Mr. Chrétien told the CBC yesterday.
Mr. Lino's statements to the FBI have been provided to defence lawyers involved in Mafia cases. Mr. Lino has told the FBI he was involved in six murders, several attempted murders, loan sharking, extortion and gambling, and he has since testified for the prosecution as part of a wide crackdown on organized crime in the United States.
Mr. Lino said the only people at the Montreal meeting in 1992 were "made" men, in reference to full-fledged members of a crime family who benefit from special protection.
Privy Council President Lucienne Robillard said yesterday that Canadian authorities would obviously investigate the allegations.
"Surely our security authorities will follow this closely. I'm sure of that," Ms. Robillard said.
Jim Margolin, a spokesman for the FBI in New York, refused to comment on the documents. "I can just tell you that the FBI and RCMP have worked together for years on matters of mutual interest including Italian organized crime and Asian organized crime and other matters," Mr. Margolin said.