For months, the former Montreal mayor's onetime underlings have portrayed Bernard Trépanier as the mastermind who skimmed millions of dollars in public funds for political activities while they innocently went about their civic duties.
On the eve of Mr. Trépanier's testimony, one of the mayor's former party officials finally spoke up Monday to directly denounce as a thief the man known in Quebec as "Mr. Three Per Cent."
As far as accusations of criminality go, it was meek and backhanded, befitting the day of testimony by Marc Deschamps, the accountant and former official agent of Union Montréal, the party of ex-mayor Gérald Tremblay.
Several times, inquiry head Madame Justice France Charbonneau chided Mr. Deschamps for evasiveness, going so far to suggest he was acting like a simpleton for denying basic facts obvious to anyone with ears and eyes. The more pointed questions become, the softer Mr. Deschamps spoke.
After a lengthy discourse in which Mr. Deschamps described how it was impossible that the party was taking in and spending the millions skimmed by Mr. Trépanier, Justice Charbonneau cut to the chase: "If I understand what you're saying, the money collected by Mr. Trépanier, the 3 per cent, was not going into the coffers of Union Montréal, but was staying in his pockets?"
Mr. Deschamps ended his public testimony with a whisper: "Yes."
Mr. Trépanier is expected to testify this week, possibly as early as Tuesday.
The Charbonneau inquiry has produced constant fallout and more pieces fell Monday. Rosaire Sauriol, a long-time executive at Dessau Inc., resigned as vice-president Monday after he was shown to be a central figure in a ring of engineers who helped rig construction bids.
In a separate development, Transport Minister Denis Lebel asked his deputy minister to investigate whether employees at the federal agency that administers the Jacques Cartier and Champlain bridges in Montreal received improper gifts from construction firms, The Canadian Press reported.
Robert Marcil, the man who ran Montreal's public works when it was a nest of corruption in the early 2000s but denied knowing of any wrongdoing, resigned Monday from his private-sector engineering job. A statement late Monday from Groupe SMi cited personal reasons for the departure.
Mr. Marcil left the city and moved into the private sector in 2009 after revelations a construction boss treated him to a trip to Italy.
The Charbonneau commission has carefully avoided venturing beyond its mandate into federal territory. But earlier this month, Ghislaine Dujmovic of DJL Construction testified spa trips, wine and other gifts were sent to employees of the federal agency, along with some in the provincial bureaucracy and the city of Montreal.
The Charbonneau commission has heard about a vast conspiracy to funnel millions from construction contracts into the coffers of political parties and the pockets of crooked bureaucrats and party officials.
While Mr. Deschamps's testimony Monday put much blame at Mr. Trépanier's feet, it also showed Mr. Tremblay knew there were problems in his party's fundraising wing. In 2006, Mr. Deschamps testified that the mayor called him to suggest he fire Mr. Trépanier without offering any reason. The fundraiser was let go with four months salary and a $25,000 lump payment but continued raising vast sums of cash right up to 2010.
Mr. Deschamps said he never asked any questions, but with hindsight he acknowledged that Mr. Trépanier, whose techniques were starting to gain attention in the press, was fired to keep up appearances. Mr. Deschamps said Mr. Tremblay recently told him he was uncomfortable with Mr. Trépanier's close relationship to the then-second-most-powerful politician at city hall, Frank Zampino.
Commission counsel Paul Crépeau suggested Mr. Tremblay was also uncomfortable with an attempt by Mr. Trépanier to extort $1-million from a real estate developer. Mr. Deschamps said he knew nothing about the allegation, which has not been part of public testimony at the inquiry.
Mr. Trépanier, Mr. Zampino and Mr. Tremblay are all on the list of coming inquiry witnesses.