The RCMP has targeted a Liberal organizer in its 11-year-old investigation into the sponsorship scandal, laying fraud-related charges against one of the party's key players in Quebec in the Chrétien years.
Jacques Corriveau, 80, has been summoned to appear in court in January on charges of fraud, forgery and laundering proceeds of crime.
The RCMP also obtained orders to freeze two of Mr. Corriveau's investment accounts, as well as his residence, valued at $1-million.
The RCMP says Mr. Corriveau claimed he could "exercise influence on the federal government" to direct sponsorship funds to Liberal-friendly firms, reaping about $8-million as part of this alleged "kickback system."
The sponsorship program was designed to place Canadian flags and banners at events in Quebec after the 1995 referendum on sovereignty, but it became a symbol of Liberal mismanagement and patronage in the early 2000s.
Mr. Corriveau was well-known in Liberal circles as an ally of prime minister Jean Chrétien, having worked on his two Liberal leadership bids and played a prominent role on campaigns in the 1990s and in 2000.
He was an occasional guest at 24 Sussex Dr., and shared a love of music with Aline Chrétien, which gave him the aura of an insider in the federal government.
The RCMP started investigating allegations of fraud in the sponsorship program in 2002, after revelations that advertising firms misspent funds intended to increase the federal government's visibility in Quebec.
The RCMP and the Quebec provincial police previously laid charges of fraud against a former bureaucrat, Chuck Guité, and four advertising executives involved in the program, Jean Brault, Paul Coffin, Gilles-André Gosselin and Jean Lafleur.
An inquiry into the sponsorship scandal in 2005 found that Mr. Corriveau was a "central figure in an elaborate kickback scheme" in which six-figure cash donations and other secret contributions went to the Liberal Party.
The revelations harmed the Liberals from coast to coast, particularly in Quebec. The party was reduced to a minority in 2004 and lost power in 2006.
After the charges were announced on Friday, the NDP and the Conservative Party launched fresh attacks against the Liberals. The Liberal Party refused to comment.
To build its case against Mr. Corriveau, the RCMP obtained the collaboration of Mr. Brault and the owner of a firm that received about $40-million in sponsorship funds, Luc Lemay. Both firms paid millions of dollars to Mr. Corriveau, often for little or no work.
Mr. Lemay told the inquiry he had not heard about the sponsorship program until he met Mr. Corriveau, which explained his decision to pay him a commission on the sponsorships that he received. Mr. Lemay said he agreed to pay Mr. Corriveau a 17.5-per-cent cut of the sponsorship deals he would get from Ottawa.
Michel Béliveau, a former director-general of the Quebec wing of the Liberal Party, testified at the inquiry that he and another Liberal organizer received $300,000 in cash from Mr. Corriveau for campaign expenses in the 1997 election. Mr. Corriveau denied any wrongdoing, although he said his memory of events was faulty.
During the inquiry, a staff member in the office of then-prime minister Paul Martin said that he was one of at least three party workers in the Quebec wing's Montreal offices in the late 1990s who were paid by Mr. Corriveau even though they did not work for his firm.
Mr. Chrétien described Mr. Corriveau as a "good friend" at the inquiry in 2005.
"He always worked for me," Mr. Chrétien said. "He was one of my organizers the two times I ran for the leadership and he was very active."
However, Mr. Chrétien denied having any knowledge of Mr. Corriveau's role in the sponsorship program.
A spokesman for the RCMP said its investigation into the sponsorship scandal is still active. Court records show that the Mounties have investigated officials at another advertising firm involved in the program, Groupe Everest.