The Liberal bagman has already admitted to rigging Quebec's political system since the 1950s, but that's not the deception that evidently gnawed at Gilles Cloutier's conscience.
Mr. Cloutier returned Monday to Quebec's corruption inquiry after a scheduled 10-day break to morosely confess that he has been pretending for years that he was the owner of a luxurious nine-bedroom vacation home with a sweeping view of the St. Lawrence River.
Mr. Cloutier said he started telling the fib at the beginning of his 10 years staying at his second home in the late 1990s, and just kept on living the lie when he testified about it this month at the Charbonneau inquiry into Quebec's corrupt political financing system.
Mr. Cloutier had described buying the house – a steal at $200,000 – before selling it for $400,000 a decade later. In fact, the whole time, he was renting it for the summer at rates ranging from $5,000 to $8,000.
"I told everyone a long time ago I was the owner and I was pretending," Mr. Cloutier said, adding he made the realization during the inquiry's break last week. "I've been living in purgatory since."
Mr. Cloutier appeared to suggest he independently came to his senses, however, under cross examination he admitted a Journal de Montréal report on the true ownership of the home in the scenic Charlevoix region and a visit from inquiry investigators helped jog his memory.
Mr. Cloutier is the latest star witness at the inquiry to tell of a breathtaking system of rigged elections and illegal cash financing, but he's the first to say it dated back 60 years and persisted through layers of political financing laws and governments.
He's also only the latest to see his credibility tested for telling tall tales, although in Mr. Cloutier's case, the revelation was not central to his testimony, but more a matter of character.
"Why would you lie about such a trivial matter?" Justice France Charbonneau, the inquiry head, asked Mr. Cloutier.
Mr. Cloutier replied: "It's ego. Misplaced ego."
The admission gave fresh ammunition to Estelle Tremblay, the Parti Québécois lawyer, who was trying to discredit Mr. Cloutier's testimony that while he mostly worked for Liberals during his career, he also bought influence from PQ officials and raised illicit funds for them.
Mr. Cloutier said Gilles Beaulieu, a close adviser of then-transport minister Guy Chevrette, demanded $100,000 to give Mr. Cloutier's firm access to Transport contracts. Mr. Cloutier says he paid $25,000.
Both Mr. Beaulieu and Mr. Chevrette deny the allegation and have asked Justice Charbonneau for the right to cross-examine Mr. Cloutier.
Mr. Cloutier insisted Monday that the rest of his testimony is true.