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Security firm gives Jean Charest another headache

Last week Premier Jean Charest lost his family minister, Toni Tomassi, after questions were raised about the minister's links to a private security firm. On Tuesday another minister came under fire for ties to the same company and its owner, Luigi Coretti.

The latest budding scandal in the Charest government involves one of the pivotal members of cabinet, Public Security Minister Jacques Dupuis. The opposition accuses him of interfering with provincial police on behalf of Mr. Coretti - a generous Liberal party donor - to help him get a licence to carry a firearm.

Mr. Coretti sought the permit on the grounds that, as owner of the BCIA security agency, he needed to carry a firearm while guarding the transportation of money or valuables.

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The Sûreté du Québec turned down his request on a number of occasions. But Mr. Coretti was persistent and through his friend, then-Liberal-MNA Toni Tomassi, arranged to meet Mr. Dupuis rather than pursue an appeal process to get the permit, Mr. Dupuis admitted in the National Assembly on Tuesday. According to the minister, Mr. Coretti complained of being ill-treated by the SQ. A couple of months later, police finally granted Mr. Coretti a permit to carry a firearm.

Mr. Dupuis insisted that he never interfered with the SQ on Mr. Coretti's behalf. The minister said that while Mr. Coretti's complaint was later handled by his chief of staff, Jocelyn Turcotte, there was never any political interference.

"I practise honest politics, I know my boundaries and I never overstep those boundaries," Mr. Dupuis told the National Assembly in response to questions by Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois.

Mr. Charest came to his minister's defence by quoting the SQ's director general, Richard Deschesnes, who said that the firearm permit was granted without political interference.

"It can't be any clearer. The minister assumed his responsibilities because he is contact with the citizens and we know the difference between administrative and political responsibilities," Mr. Charest said.

The opposition parties said Mr. Dupuis should have never met with Mr. Coretti or asked his chief of staff to look into the complaint.

"This is direct political interference in a police matter," Action Démocratique du Québec Leader Gérard Deltell said. "The Premier has no other choice but to ask for his Minister of Public Security's resignation."

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The embarrassment caused by Mr. Coretti was compounded by the businessman's close ties with the Quebec Liberal Party. Mr. Charest fired Mr. Tomassi from cabinet last week after learning that Mr. Coretti's BCIA security firm had given the former minister a gas company credit card.

Police are now investigating whether Mr. Tomassi received an allowance from the National Assembly for travel expenses while at the same time having the expenses covered by the BCIA-owned credit card.

BCIA filed for bankruptcy last month. It had received several million dollars in government agency contracts and subsidies since 2008.

Mr. Coretti has been identified in media reports as an influential party contributor. Based on media reports, the opposition parties have charged that Mr. Coretti encouraged his employees to attend Liberal fundraising activities and were reimbursed by BCIA, which would be a breach of the province's Election Law. Quebec law prohibits companies from making contributions to political parties.

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