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Frank Zampino, former chairman of the Montreal executive committee, arrives at the Charbonneau inquiry looking into corruption in the Quebec construction industry Tuesday, April 16, 2013 in Montreal.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

The City of Montreal's former No. 2 says he accepted gifts from businessmen and sees nothing wrong with the practice, as long as they're not breaking the rules by doing so.

Frank Zampino, on the stand for a third day at Quebec's corruption inquiry, says he doesn't necessarily have a problem with bureaucrats accepting gifts like hockey tickets and golf trips as long as the rules were followed.

The former right-hand man to ex-mayor Gerald Tremblay says what mattered was to resist being influenced and to avoid favouring certain contractors.

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That prompted an interjection from inquiry chair France Charbonneau, who reminded the witness that the appearance of a conflict of interest doesn't mean the rules have to be bent – it also applies to close ties between individuals with a business relationship.

Zampino admitted he also got wine at Christmas – but from engineering and law firms, and rarely if ever from contractors. He says it had no impact on the decisions he took.

The inquiry has heard that contractors paid off city engineers with trips, gifts and cash in exchange for help in collusion schemes.

Zampino says such wrongdoing came as news to him: he says he only learned about it watching the testimony at the inquiry. He says if he'd been aware, he would have told the city's director general to look into the matter.

The inquiry has heard that companies inflated the cost of public projects and that the extra cash was divided between the Mafia, corrupt bureaucrats and Union Montreal, Zampino's old party. Some witnesses have denied the existence of such a structured scheme.

Asked if Zampino or the city's top decision-making body were ever told about "potential" collusion, the former executive committee chair said not explicitly, although there was some awareness of costs being much higher in Montreal compared with other places.

He says word of schemes never reached the level of the city's powerful executive committee, over which he presided between 2002 and 2008.

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"I repeat: we were never made aware and never saw any red flags," Zampino said.

In separate proceedings, Zampino faces a number of criminal charges – including fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust.

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