Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre says he should have disclosed a $25,000 cheque he received while he was a Liberal MP, money, he says, he used to fund his legal feud with an NHL hockey player.
But Mr. Coderre insisted Monday the contribution from Montreal businessman Jean Rizzuto presents no conflict of interest or ethical violation. The transaction is reportedly under police investigation.
The outspoken mayor who came to office promising to clean up city hall after years of corruption pledged to withdraw from city-hall decisions that could have any bearing on Mr. Rizzuto's real estate business.
"Let's be clear, there's no question of legality when it comes to making a contribution for legal fees," Mr. Coderre told reporters in Montreal. "It wasn't a gift, it was a contribution from someone who wanted to give me a hand. Maybe I should have declared it but I received it and sent it along to the law firm within weeks."
Mr. Coderre added that he has never had any role in awarding any contract to Mr. Rizzuto's enterprises, either as a federal MP and cabinet minister or as mayor. "This isn't money from just anyone, it's from a friend of mine for 30 years," he said.
Valérie Plante, opposition leader at Montreal city hall, said Mr. Rizzuto, a long-time Liberal Party of Canada fundraiser, remains an influential figure in Mr. Coderre's administration and in real estate development in Montreal. She demanded Mr. Coderre release receipts and any other documents showing the money trail.
"It's very troubling to see him minimizing this affair, finding all kinds of excuses, when the federal guidelines are clear he not receive any gift or advantage of the kind," Ms. Plante said. "He should be showing an example."
In 2006, Mr. Coderre became embroiled in legal action with Phoenix Coyotes star Shane Doan, who the politician had publicly accused of uttering a slur against a francophone NHL official. Mr. Coderre had demanded Mr. Doan be barred from playing for Canada during the 2006 Turin Olympics. Mr. Doan sued for defamation and Mr. Coderre countersued.
The lawsuits were settled in 2010 but Mr. Rizzuto wrote the cheque to Mr. Coderre in 2012. The mayor maintains the money was used entirely to settle outstanding legal fees.
"It wasn't a gift, it was for a private lawsuit," Mr. Coderre said. "I was an opposition MP, I had no official function, I wasn't even thinking about running for mayor. [Mr. Rizzuto] wanted to help."
Mr. Coderre conceded he perhaps should have declared the money under federal conflict-of-interest guidelines to avoid trouble but said he simply passed the money on to the law firm that represented him in the lawsuit.
The story of the cheque was first leaked to the Journal de Montréal, which reported that the province's anti-corruption squad and the RCMP are looking into it. The police forces declined to confirm the information.
The newspaper said its reporters asked the mayor about the cheque three times a few weeks ago but he denied its existence.
Mr. Coderre, who was on leave recovering from an infected prostate at the time, said he was medicated and not thinking clearly when first asked about the cheque. He said police have not contacted him about the money.