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Jean Charest walked into the Quebec City courthouse Wednesday, not as Premier but as a citizen, in the first stage of a $700,000 libel suit against former Liberal justice minister Marc Bellemare.

Last March, Mr. Bellemare accused Mr. Charest of "lying" in repudiating the former minister's allegations: that, in 2003, senior Quebec Liberal Party fundraisers took illegal cash payments from construction entrepreneurs, who then attempted to influence judicial appointments. Mr. Bellemare said he repeatedly told Mr. Charest of the irregularities, but nothing was done to stop them.

During Wednesday's pretrial examination of discovery, Mr. Charest spent most of the day behind closed doors in a small room fielding questions from Mr. Bellemare's lawyers. Accompanied by his lawyer, André Ryan, Mr. Charest was required to provide information to substantiate his claim that Mr. Bellemare made "false, deceptive, slanderous and libellous" accusations against him. Mr. Bellemare will use the information to build his defence.

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"He [Mr. Bellemare]doesn't lack any resources. He had three lawyers with him in the room. If he wanted me to stay longer I would have," Mr. Charest said after the interrogation, arguing that unlike Mr. Bellemare he was being fully co-operative with authorities.

Last month, Mr. Bellemare said he would refuse to testify before the Bastarache Commission set to examine his charges the Charest government was involved in influence peddling involving judicial appointments. He said it wasn't impartial, referring to it as "a Liberal fan club."

The libel suit was not expected to be heard until some time in 2011.

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