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A sign points to the Charbonneau commission, a public inquiry into corruption within Quebec's construction industry, in Montreal September 17, 2012.

CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/Reuters

An expert on organized crime in Italy and Quebec is giving the province's inquiry into the construction industry a crash course that could be called Mob 101.

Valentina Tenti, an academic who has conducted research in Milan and Montreal, described the many tentacles that have grown out of mafia groups from modest rural roots in Italy.

Dr. Tenti said the current transnational system of "subjugation and intimidation to maintain power and control markets" grew from an Italian village system of protection and backscratching.

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Today, "there is considerable overlap between legitimate and criminal businesses in the Cosa Nostra," Dr. Tenti testified on Tuesday morning.

The opening days into the Charbonneau commission into corrupt practices involving Quebec's public construction industry are dedicated to setting out the general context for a sector wracked by scandal in recent years.

Dozens of Quebec contractors, municipal politicians and bureaucrats are facing charges and criminal investigation. The inquiry is trying to dig deeper into the roots of the system.

Inquiry chairperson France Charbonneau hinted at specifics to come in her opening remarks on Monday. She said sidewalk, sewer and paving contracts in Montreal and its suburb of Laval would face particular scrutiny.

Such allegations aren't new in Montreal, where Mayor Gérald Tremblay's former right-hand man, Frank Zampino, is facing fraud and corruption charges.

Laval, a suburb with exploding growth, has long been subject of rumour and accusation but the small clutch of municipal officials who have ruled the city uncontested for years, including Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, have never faced criminal charge or the scrutiny of a public inquiry.

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