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Top McGuinty ministers dined with Italian aviation chief accused of bribery scheme

File photo of Finmeccanica chairman and chief executive officer Giuseppe Orsi.

Remo Casilli/REUTERS

Ornge former chief executive officer Chris Mazza hosted a dinner in 2010 with two senior ministers in then-premier Dalton McGuinty's government and an Italian helicopter official now at the centre of an alleged bribery scheme.

The purpose of the dinner was to help Giuseppe Orsi, who was chief executive officer of Italian helicopter maker AgustaWestland, expand the company's reach into Canada, according to people who were there. But taxpayers picked up the $1,215.20 tab for the dinner at a trattoria in Toronto's tony Yorkville neighbourhood.

Mr. Orsi, now chairman of AgustaWestland parent company Finmeccanica, was arrested on Tuesday in Italy. He faces bribery allegations in connection with the sale of military helicopters to the Indian government. No charges have been laid and Mr. Orsi has denied any wrongdoing, according to Reuters.

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AgustaWestland sold 12 helicopters to Ornge, which operates the province's air ambulance service, for $148-million in 2010. Later that same year – on Sept. 22 – Dwight Duncan, finance minister, and his Windsor, Ont., cabinet colleague Sandra Pupatello dined at Vaticano Restaurant with Mr. Orsi, Dr. Mazza and eight others. Both say the dinner left a bad taste in their mouths.

"It was a bizarre meeting," Mr. Duncan said in an interview, adding that the AgustaWestland executives were interested only in talking about selling helicopters to the federal government. "We didn't even talk about Ornge," he said. "I was frankly a little bit annoyed when the meeting was done because I didn't think it was a good use of my time."

Ms. Pupatello said she bristled at the executives' single-minded focus on landing federal contracts instead of talking about how they might work with the Ontario government. "The idea that they would call on us on the political side to say, 'can you help us with a bid in Ottawa' is so outrageous," she said.

Ms. Pupatello was surprised to learn that AgustaWestland did not pay for the meal.

"I just presumed they were taking us to dinner," she said.

The receipt, including a $354.45 bar bill, is among 3,000 pages of expense records for Dr. Mazza that the Ontario government released last month.

The records have been turned over to the Ontario Provincial Police, which is investigating private, for-profit companies created by Ornge to determine whether any public funds were used. Ornge receives $150-million a year from the province.

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Mr. Duncan and Ms. Pupatello were invited to the dinner by Alfred Apps, a former key legal adviser to Ornge. However, Mr. Apps presented a very different take on what transpired.

"So far as I can recall," Mr. Apps said in an e-mail, "the dinner was exclusively focused on the possibility of AgustaWestland locating an operation in Ontario ... and pitching Windsor as a location."

Dr. Mazza could not be reached for comment. A person close to him said he was "shocked" to learn of the bribery allegations.

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