The case against a man described as the "central figure" in the federal sponsorship scandal has been put off until May.
Jacques Corriveau was not in court Friday as his lawyer received a hard disk containing the voluminous evidence amassed against him, including thousands of pages of documents.
"The next step is to fix a date for trial, but before we get to that point, the defence has to take knowledge of the whole evidence," prosecutor Jacques Dagenais told reporters.
Corriveau, 80, a longtime federal Liberal organizer, faces charges that include fraud against the government, forgery and laundering proceeds of crime.
The Mounties allege that Corriveau set up a kickback system on contracts awarded during the sponsorship program and used his Pluri Design Canada Inc. firm to defraud the federal government.
Police said Corriveau alleged he could exert influence on the federal government to ensure certain Quebec-based firms received lucrative contracts in exchange for several million dollars in kickbacks and benefits for himself and others.
A report on the scandal pinned Corriveau with much of the blame for the multimillion-dollar fraud.
"Jacques Corriveau was the central figure in an elaborate kickback scheme by which he enriched himself personally and provided funds and benefits to the (Quebec wing of the Liberal party)," Justice John Gomery, who headed the sponsorship commission, wrote in his report.
The sponsorship program was intended to increase the federal government's presence in Quebec after the No side's slim victory in the 1995 sovereignty referendum.
The commission found that firms were winning contracts based on donations to the federal Liberals, with little work being done. The ensuing inquiry led to the demise of the Liberals' hold on power.
Corriveau was also a very close friend of former prime minister Jean Chretien and worked on his campaigns. He was also a key Liberal operative in Quebec.
Justice Sophie Bourque put the case off until May 5.
Sponsorship-related criminal files proceed directly to trial before judge and jury and Corriveau's case will be no different. So far, five people have faced criminal charges stemming from the sponsorship scandal – four advertising executives and one bureaucrat.
Dagenais says going straight to trial is a directive ordered by the director of public prosecutions, who wants to see quick trials for these cases.
"One reason is the delay – the span of the charges is 1997 to 2003, so it's commendable to have a quicker procedure," Dagenais explained.
"Also, because it's a scandal involving taxpayers, a jury trial perhaps is an excellent forum for such cases."
Dagenais said the file was not inactive. The RCMP handed over the file at the end of 2010 to the Crown, which studied it since early 2011.
"It was only ready for prosecution when we filed it in late 2013," Dagenais said.
"It's one thing to have evidence before a commission of inquiry, and it's another to prove in court beyond a reasonable doubt."
Any trial isn't expected before 2015.