Longtime councillor and Équipe Coderre candidate Robert Zambito has dropped out of Montreal’s election race less than one week before voters go to the polls on Nov. 3.
The news came Tuesday afternoon — just hours before Radio-Canada’s investigative news program Enquête was scheduled to air a story about an alleged kickback scheme.
Enquête learned that Zambito, who has been a councillor in St-Léonard since 1986, is under investigation by Quebec’s anti-corruption unit over the sale of land that was owned by the city.
The alleged scheme dates back to the spring of 2010, when Zambito was a member of former mayor Gérald Tremblay’s party, Union Montréal.
Zambito was in a municipal office speaking with Bernard Blanchet, the chair of the Union Montréal caucus, and allegedly offered him $20,000 to help reduce the sale price of a former snow depot that was for sale in Lachine to one of Zambito's friends.
'I never offered money to anyone,” - Robert Zambito, candidate
Blanchet would have refused and turned to then-mayor Tremblay — who told Blanchet to go to police.
The anti-corruption unit opened an investigation.
Another alleged bribe-attempt
Blanchet complained to police a second time a few months later, after Zambito allegedly invited him to connect with the buyer, Giuseppe Libertella, during a Union Montréal reunion in the basement of a banquet hall in the city’s east end.
The two men allegedly offered Blanchet compensation in exchange for helping to reduce the sale price of the land, which needed to be decontaminated.
Coderre demands resignation
'We asked all the questions.' - Denis Coderre, mayoral candidate
After finding out about the allegations, Coderre said he told his candidate to step down.
“We asked all the questions,” Coderre said, adding that Zambito swore he did nothing wrong.
“When we do all the background [checks] asking all the questions, and the person under oath says he did nothing ... I mean, what else? I am not a police force. We asked all the questions.”
No charges laid
No charges have been laid and Zambito insists he’s innocent.
“I never offered money to anyone,” Zambito told Radio-Canada.
Zambito admitted to discussing the land sale with Blanchet — but said he never offered kickbacks.
In his resignation letter, Zambito says he will spend all his energy on clearing his name, and proving his innocence.