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Jacques Corriveau, a former Liberal organizer and key figure in Quebec sponsorship scandal, dies at 85

Jacques Corriveau arrives in court in Montreal on Wednesday Jan. 25, 2017. The ex-Liberal organizer convicted of fraud related to the federal sponsorship scandal is expected to be sentenced today. A jury found Corriveau guilty of three charges in November: fraud against the government, forgery and laundering proceeds of crime. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

The Canadian Press

Jacques Corriveau, a former federal Liberal Party insider in Quebec and a key figure in the sponsorship scandal, has died.

A one-time friend of former prime minister Jean Chrétien, Mr. Corriveau was in the midst of appealing a criminal conviction related to the federal sponsorship program.

On Friday his lawyer, Gérald Soulière, confirmed the news first reported by Le Journal de Montréal that Mr. Corriveau died on June 23 and that his funeral took place July 14.

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The death had not been made public at the request of the family.

The cause of death of the 85-year-old was not disclosed, but Mr. Corriveau cited poor health when he asked for a more lenient sentence after he was found guilty in November, 2016, of influence peddling, forgery and laundering proceeds of crime.

Superior Court Justice Jean-François Buffoni, however, handed him a four-year jail term. The judge said the harsh sentence was necessary because “the length, the nature, the amounts and the sophistication of the scheme and the important efforts to ensure its clandestine nature merit an exemplary sentence.”

Mr. Corriveau was detained for a few hours at the Montreal courthouse after Justice Buffoni sentenced him but was freed pending the appeal of the guilty verdict.

He was also fined $1.4-million, with 10 years to pay it off once his sentence was completed.

The fine was never paid and the bid to appeal the conviction is now void, Mr. Soulière said.

Mr. Corriveau was charged in 2013 after an 11-year investigation by the RCMP. His house in Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, south of Montreal, which he touted as having avant-garde architectural design, was raided by the Mounties, who hauled out boxes of documents.

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The crimes occurred during the sponsorship program, which aimed to increase the federal government’s visibility in Quebec following the 1995 sovereignty referendum. However, reporting by The Globe and Mail and other media, followed by a public inquiry, revealed that the program became a kickback scheme in which well-connected advertising firms received millions of dollars in federal contracts for little work and then returned some of the money to the Liberals.

The ensuing scandal played a large role in the Liberals losing power in 2006.

The 2005 inquiry chaired by Justice John Gomery concluded that Mr. Corriveau was a central figure in the kickback scheme, which involved inflated invoices and cash envelopes.

As a subcontractor for trade shows and print publications receiving sponsorship money, Mr. Corriveau received commissions totalling $7-million, with more than $700,000 directly or indirectly benefiting the Liberals.

He was also identified by ad executives vying for sponsorship contracts as a key broker and friend of the prime minister.

Testifying at the Gomery inquiry, he portrayed himself as an arts lover. “Culture is my reason for existing,” he said.

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He played down his friendship with Mr. Chrétien, even though the inquiry heard that he once stayed at 24 Sussex Dr. and phone logs showed numerous calls between the two men.

In his testimony, Mr. Chrétien acknowledged that Mr. Corriveau was a good friend.

"He was one of my organizers the two times I ran for party leadership and he was very active. He was a very, very good supporter who thought that I had certain qualities to be leader of my party," Mr. Chrétien said.

A long-time Liberal organizer, Mr. Corriveau was a designer by trade. His firm received contracts in the 1993, 1997 and 2000 elections to print all the outdoor signs and billboards for the party’s candidates in Quebec.

Testifying at the inquiry, he did concede that his firm did better with the Liberals in the 1990s than under the Tories in the 1980s. “When fortune smiles on you, you don’t turn it down,” he said with a smile.

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