Construction boss says political fundraisers were chance to network

Construction entrepreneur Giuseppe Borsellino told Quebec's corruption commission political parties "sold" fundraising events as networking opportunities to attract more donations from the construction industry.

Borsellino says he stopped attending events for 'ethical' reasons

Giuseppe Borsellino told the corruption commission he attended political fundraisers 'to be seen,' and raise his profile. (Charbonneau commission)

Construction entrepreneur Giuseppe Borsellino told Quebec's corruption commission that political parties "sold" fundraising events as networking opportunities in order to attract more donations from the construction industry. 

"They should have made the law in the 1800s, that someone working for the government, neither him or anyone in his family should contribute," Borsellino, the head of Garnier Construction, told the commission during his fourth day on the witness stand.

"We can still contribute to political parties, but we don't because we think we're in conflict …Because we are working for a government contract, and the political parties were probably using us to collect their funds."

The minister and the union head

The commission heard a recording of a conversation that took place between Borsellino and former FTQ-Construction head Jocelyn Dupuis in which the pair discussed former MNA Tony Tomassi.

Borsellino had spent the previous three days partying with Tomassi, who had just been named to the Liberal cabinet.

An audibly excited Borsellino tells Dupuis that Tomassi received a call from the FTQ president, Michel Arsenault.

He suggested that the two should keep quiet about that until they knew more about what was going on.

Commission chair France Charbonneau pressed the witness to explain why he wanted to keep things under wraps — and why he was so excited about Arsenault's call to Tomassi.

"Well, my friend is a minister and Mr. Arsenault, who is the head of a union, is calling him. I'm only excited at that level," Borsellino said.

He said that his interest in Arsenault was benign – that he was pursuing land deals and wanted to develop a better relationship with the union.

Borsellino said the conversation was short because he was busy and was trying to get Dupuis off the phone.

"You know what I think you're trying to get out of?" Charbonneau replied, pointing to a paper copy of the phone call transcript.

"This conversation and not that one."

LISTEN: Borsellino's recorded conversation with Dupuis

Borsellino said he attended several cocktails as a means of raising his business profile. He said he was actively solicited by the political parties to buy tickets to the events.

"In reality, it was a political party business model to get some contributors to the party," he said of the events.

"Eventually, we stopped doing [it.] The reasons are because it's not ethically correct."

$10,000 donation

Borsellino said that he knew Union Montréal's former finance head, Bernard Trépanier, and occasionally saw him at events or when they both happened to be at the same restaurant.

He said he never gave Trépanier money or cheques.

Commission prosecutor Simon Tremblay addressed phone records which showed Trépanier and Borsellino spoke to each other five times before the 2005 municipal election.

Tremblay pressed Borsellino about those exchanges and what actually occurred during the conversations, suggesting that Trépanier was soliciting donations.

Borsellino said he couldn't remember, snapping at Tremblay that he was probably "too tired for this."

He told the commission that Martin Dumont, a former Union Montréal organizer who has previously testified before the commission, came to his home to pick up a $10,000 cheque from his company.

"That’s why he was probably calling me," Borsellino said, adding that he had forgotten about the donation until the commission refreshed his memory.

Borsellino said he was told he was allowed to make out a company cheque for the fundraiser, and it may have been related to a de-amalgamation event, a movement he supported.

RAW VIDEO: Heated exchange over $10,000 donation

Publication ban arguments

This afternoon, the commission is expected to hear arguments relating to the partial lifting of a publication ban that was imposed on the testimony of several witnesses who appeared at the inquiry over the past two weeks.

The publication ban applies to testimony concerning an east-end Montreal development project that is the focus of a criminal investigation.

The hearings will proceed behind closed doors until a decision is made on what portions of that testimony will be made public.