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Jean Charest has denied any intervention in a Quebec provincial police investigation of Eddy Brandone, a former treasurer of FTQ-construction, after a Radio-Canada report revealed a police surveillance operation was abruptly halted.
The Sûreté du Québec surveillance of Brandone was suspended after he was seen speaking with Charest, the French network's investigative program Enquête reported Wednesday, citing police sources.
Charest commented on the report at a provincial election campaign stop in Saint-Léonard-d'Aston, northeast of Montreal, two hours after a report on the Radio-Canada investigation was broadcast.
"I never, never, never intervened," he said. He then added he had no idea this investigation was taking place.
The abrupt halt to the operation had some police investigators questioning the reasoning behind the decision to pull the surveillance team, according to police sources who spoke with Enquête. The officers spoke on the condition of anonymity and would not appear on camera.
The incident dates back to March 2009, the day after a report aired on Enquête detailing allegations that the then head of the province's largest construction union, Jocelyn Dupuis, was running up massive expenses at restaurants – more than $100,000 in six months. The same report also described alleged links between Dupuis and the Mafia.
The next day, the Sûreté du Québec followed Brandone, a former union executive. As treasurer of FTQ-construction, he was responsible for the approval of Dupuis' expenses.
On March 6, 2009, police followed Brandone to various locations, including a lunchtime stop at a hotel in Dorval, Que.
Charest, several ministers and Inuit leaders were at an event at the hotel that day. Radio-Canada reports that Brandone spoke with Charest very briefly.
After the meeting, an order came down from a high-ranking Sûreté du Québec officer to "black out" the operation, meaning immediately stop surveillance.
It's unknown who gave the order or what prompted it.
Brandone spoke with Enquête in 2010 and said he did speak with Charest at the hotel but only very briefly to say hello.
At that time, Brandone said he was there to discuss with Inuit leaders construction trailers he wanted to sell and the discussion was brief and harmless. He said he was invited to the event.
A source who witnessed the meeting contradicts Brandone's story.
The source told Enquête Brandone was not invited to the meeting and that Brandone told the source the sole reason he was there was to see Charest. According to the source, the conversation between the premier and Brandone took place during the lunch break and lasted two minutes.
When Radio-Canada contacted Brandone again this week, he denied ever seeing Charest at the hotel.
Charest told reporters Wednesday he was never informed of any surveillance operation and did not remember talking to Brandone on the date in question.
"I have met [Brandone] back in 1993 when he was a supporter of my leadership campaign. I remember him because every time he came to me he said he was a union activist, which is, in our political party, rare."
He said Brandone kept supporting the party throughout the years and would casually strike up conversations with him.
When asked about the depth of the conversations, Charest said he did not remember talking to Brandone in any depth or have any valuable interactions. He specifically said he did not remember talking to him at a meeting on March 6, 2009.
In its own statement, the SQ also asserted its independence, adding it cannot comment on the specific investigation, or why the surveillance was stopped because there are allegations related to Dupuis that are before the courts.
"The Sûreté du Québec has complete and total independence with regards to its operations and criminal investigations," the statement said. "No one, and I mean no one, is above the law or can be protected from a criminal investigation."
Upon hearing about Radio-Canada's investigation, Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois urged Charest to explain himself.
"It's very worrisome," she said. "I think Mr. Charest must explain his connection to Eddy Brandone. How long have they had this said connection. Is what we are hearing correct?
"It certainly isn't a normal thing to stop an investigation. That's why we have to hear from Mr. Charest," she added.