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One of the most colourful quotes at the Gomery inquiry came from former bureaucrat Chuck Guité, who wanted to show that Liberal organizer Jacques Corriveau was a powerful figure in Ottawa.
"If you ever find somebody in bed between Jean Chrétien and his wife, it would be Jacques Corriveau," Mr. Guité said, attributing the comment to former Liberal minister David Dingwall.
At the time, Mr. Corriveau was best known in Ottawa for his stays at 24 Sussex Dr., when Mr. Chrétien was the Liberal leader and prime minister. Now 80, Mr. Corriveau is facing charges of fraud, forgery and laundering proceeds of crime for his role in the sponsorship program.
He was a shadowy figure inside the national unity initiative, which was designed to put up Canadian flags and banners at sporting and cultural events across Canada, especially in Quebec.
Mr. Corriveau's name or his firm appeared nowhere in the official government paperwork. Instead, he collected secret commissions on the contracts that a number of firms – such as Groupaction Marketing, Groupe Polygone and Lafleur Communication – received from Public Works and Government Services Canada.
Overall, Mr. Corriveau made $8-million in this capacity as a middleman, keeping some of the funds for himself and funnelling other amounts in hidden donations to the Liberal Party of Canada, according to the RCMP.
"It is alleged that the accused set up a kickback system on the contracts that were awarded in the Sponsorship Program," the RCMP said on Friday. "Mr. Corriveau allegedly claimed that he could exercise influence on the Federal Government to facilitate the awarding of contracts to certain Quebec-based communication firms in return for several million dollars' worth of advantages and/or benefits for himself and other persons."
The Globe and Mail first revealed in 2002 that Mr. Corriveau had been involved in the sponsorship program. At the time, however, Mr. Corriveau denied having received sponsorship funds, and details of his actual role in the program were scarce. In an interview, Mr. Corriveau cut short a telephone interview by insisting he had nothing to do with the sponsorship program.
"I must say I had no responsibility in all of that. ... All those communications matters do not concern me," he said.
Mr. Corriveau added he had "no link" to Groupaction and that he did "nothing in particular" with Groupe Polygone, two companies that were at the heart of the scandal, and that in fact had paid him millions of dollars in total commissions for his role.
The first official confirmation of Mr. Corriveau's role in the sponsorship program came in early 2005, during the hearings of the Gomery inquiry. Bernard Roy, the lead counsel, revealed during the testimony of former federal minister Alfonso Gagliano that Mr. Corriveau received "many millions in subcontracts" from Groupe Polygone.
Mr. Corriveau had played a major role in Mr. Chrétien's leadership campaign in 1990, and went on to produce outdoor signs for the Liberals during a series of federal elections in the 1990s and in 2000.
The Gomery inquiry heard that Mr. Corriveau had problems getting paid by the Liberal Party for his election work. In particular, the Gomery inquiry heard that Mr. Corriveau complained about the situation in a meeting in December of 1997 with Mr. Gagliano, the public works minister at the time, and Jean Pelletier, who was Mr. Chrétien's chief of staff.
Mr. Gagliano confirmed that the meeting was held in relation to a six-month delay in the payment of substantial amounts to Mr. Corriveau after the 1997 election.
"The Liberal Party was never a rich party," said Mr. Gagliano, who was also the senior Liberal organizer in Quebec.
Asked whether he was aware of Mr. Corriveau's parallel role in the sponsorship program at the time, Mr. Gagliano said he had no idea. "I never discussed these projects with Mr. Corriveau," Mr. Gagliano said.
Jean Brault, the president of the Groupaction advertising firm, told the inquiry that he secretly gave Mr. Corriveau half a million dollars from the sponsorship commissions that his company earned. According to Mr. Brault, Mr. Corriveau said the commissions were supposed to go the coffers of the Liberal Party, which Mr. Corriveau dubbed "the cause."
Despite its low public profile, Groupe Polygone was the largest recipient of sponsorship funds from 1996 to 2002. The company received 40 per cent of the $150-million sponsorship budget, the rest of which was split between hundreds of sporting and cultural events across Canada.
The president of Polygone, Mr. Lemay, told the inquiry that he hadn't 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.
"I thought it was temporary. I didn't think it'd last years," Mr. Lemay said of the sponsorship program.
Michel Béliveau, a long-time ally of Mr. Chrétien and a former director-general of the Quebec wing of the Liberal Party, testified at the Gomery inquiry that he and another Liberal organizer received $300,000 in cash from Mr. Corriveau to pay for campaign expenses in the 1997 election.
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.
While Mr. Corriveau played a large role in the Liberal Party, he started making enemies in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Mr. Pelletier, who was a chief of staff to Mr. Chrétien when he was prime minister, testified that he started getting bad vibes regarding Mr. Corriveau in the late 1990s.
Mr. Pelletier said that Mr. Corriveau often used his love of music to talk his way into 24 Sussex Dr., which started to generate much gossiping in Liberal circles. In particular, a number of Liberals felt that Mr. Corriveau was using his friendship with Mr. Chrétien's wife, Aline.
"I'm an old political animal and I've been a mayor for 12 years. I've met countless people," Mr. Pelletier testified. "Once in a while, you look at somebody in the eye and you have an intuition and suddenly, the intuition, without knowing exactly why, tells you to be prudent," he said, pointing to his nose.
"Be prudent, be prudent," Mr. Pelletier said he told the former prime minister. Mr. Pelletier said that Mr. Chrétien did not respond to his warning.
Daniel Leblanc is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa. He and fellow Globe reporter Campbell Clark won a 2004 Michener Award for their coverage of the sponsorship scandal.