Quebec's anti-corruption crackdown has reached into the heart of political power in Montreal – City Hall itself – in a sweeping police operation said to be tied to illegal party financing.
Investigators with the UPAC, or Unité permanente anti-corruption, entered the Old Montreal landmark late Tuesday afternoon and ordered municipal employees and political representatives and their staff to evacuate. Investigators were seen inside the office of interim Mayor Michael Applebaum.
Mr. Applebaum later confirmed the meeting with police but said he was not a target of the probe — only a participant. Richard Bergeron, an opposition leader at City Hall, happened to have a meeting scheduled with the mayor at 4:15 p.m., but when he arrived, Mr. Applebaum's office was full of officers, Mr. Bergeron said.
"I'm not under investigation," he said. "I'm there to work with the police."
"The guards at City Hall told me that they were from UPAC, and I understood it was a raid," he said in an interview.
The raids also hit six boroughs of the city as well as the offices of Union Montréal, the party once led by former mayor Gérald Tremblay but now reduced to a shadow of its former self. The high-profile Charbonneau Commission probing corruption on public-works contracts has heard that Union Montréal collected illegal kickbacks from construction and engineering firms to finance the party.
The boroughs hit by the raids were said to have links to Union Montréal representatives – including the borough of Côte-des-Neiges-NDG, which for years was governed by Mr. Applebaum under the Union Montréal banner; he has since become an independent. The mayor recently disclosed that he had been questioned by investigators from the Charbonneau Commission but denied he was under investigation.
A spokeswoman for UPAC said the raids are the result of an investigation that began in 2010 and involved fraud, forgery and breach of trust. Investigators on Tuesday met 25 witnesses, including current and former politicians, civil servants and City Hall service providers. Media reports said that Mr. Tremblay himself was questioned by police.
No arrests were made.
Montreal opposition leader Louise Harel said she was stunned by Tuesday's police operation. "It's worrisome to see the biggest city of Quebec, its metropolis, being raided. It's like a thunderbolt," she said in an interview. "But at least we're cleaning up. It shows the public that no one is above the law."
With a report from The Canadian Press