Former Liberal ministers, high-ranking Montreal politicians and a former provincial party fundraiser were all named on guest lists of those who attended events with embattled construction magnate Paolo Catania, presented at Quebec's corruption inquiry this morning.
The lists, presented by commission investigator Erick Roy, show times, dates and invitees at several events that took place in 2006 and 2007 at the exclusive Club 357c in Montreal's Old Port.
The venue, which has a bar, dining room, pool and other facilities, is only accessible to members and guests of members. The club keeps track of visits by members and guests on a database, from which information was obtained by commission investigators earlier this fall.
Roy has not detailed what allegedly happened at these meetings, which include:
- A Feb. 27, 2007, breakfast with 12 people on the guest list including former education minister Line Beauchamp, longtime political organizer Pierre Bibeau, former Montreal executive committee head Frank Zampino and Catania.
- A February 2008 meeting where former provincial family minister Tony Tomassi was listed as a guest of Catania.
- A June 2007 cocktail and dinner event hosted by Leo Housakos, appointed a year later as a senator, whose guest list included Joe Borsellino, a Montreal construction boss who allegedly tried to intimidate another entrepreneur, according to testimony heard earlier at the commission.
Housakos told CBC News that he was a member of the club in 2007 and 2008 and remembers hosting the event. However, he denied that Borsellino attended.
"At no time did I ever host any function where Joe Borsellino was present and at no time do I recall ever having met Joe Borsellino at Club 357c," he said.
Housakos said he has met with Catania, however, and it was the construction boss who introduced him to the club.
"The only thing I can confirm with certainty is in each and every one of these cases where I came across Mr.Catania ... at no point in time did I ever give a contract to [him] and that's what the Charbonneau inquiry is about."
He said no one from the commission has contacted him regarding any allegations or questions.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a brief comment defending Housakos after the Conservative-appointed senator's name emerged at the inquiry this morning.
"I have no information of any credible allegations against this particular individual," Harper said at joint press conference with Mexican president-elect Wednesday afternoon on Parliament Hill
Beauchamp says meetings were legitimate
Beauchamp issued a statement Wednesday stating that she attended two meetings at the club, both of which she requested to meet with "city officials and economic stakeholders" while she was minister of culture responsible for the Montreal region and minister of the environment.
She described the meetings as a general discussion on the economic performance of Quebec and Montreal.
"When I was there in 2007, there was no reason for me to believe I shouldn't be listening to the head of the executive committee of the City of Montreal and business leaders," the statement reads.
She said she exercised her role as an elected official with "integrity and dignity" and offered the inquiry her full co-operation.
Other elected officials told reporters Wednesday morning that they had also been at the club for meetings or lunches, but all said those visits were legitimate and above board.
Quebec Health Minister Réjean Hébert said he attended a meeting in 2006 or 2007 with Paolo Catania, who then was head of the Charles Lemoyne Hospital Foundation, when he was on the same board.
He said said politicians need to be cautious of the kinds of meetings they attend, but he was unaware of Catania's business dealings at the time.
Testimony led investigators to club
When Roy testified yesterday, he told the commission that investigators went to inspect the club following testimony from Elio Pagliarulo, a former bakery chain owner who said he ran a loan-sharking scheme with Catania.
He testified that he brought envelopes of cash to a private club.
He described one time when he had brought $100,000 to the club to meet Catania, who was a member. He said he saw Zampino as he was leaving the club and said the understanding was the money was intended for the former executive committee head.
Zampino has denied those allegations.
Gilles Vézina, a suspended city employee who testified at the commission earlier this month, said he accepted an invitation to meet Nicolo Milioto at 357c.
The construction entrepreneur has been described by several witnesses at the commission as the middleman between the construction industry, the Montreal Mafia and city officials.
Roy said commission investigators went to the club in late October after hearing Pagliarulo's testimony.
The club issued a statement Wednesday saying that it voluntarily worked with the commission and only provided information on people who were directly under investigation.
"It would be unfortunate and unacceptable for the actions of a very small minority of the clients of 357c to have a negative impact on the club and its members," the statement reads.
The commission adjourned for the day early following Roy's cross-examination.