RCMP arrest 6 in Norbourg fraud case, including ex-CEO
The RCMP have arrested six people in connection with the massive Norbourg securities scandal, including former CEO Vincent Lacroix, who is already serving jail time for related fraud.
The five other suspects arrested Wednesday morning were: Félicien Souka, 37; Serge Beugré, 43; Jean Cholette, 45; Rémi Deschambault, 57; and Jean Renaud, 40, a high-level bureaucrat in Quebec's Finance Department.
The six men face a total of 922 criminal charges, including conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to fabricate false documents, fabricating false documents, fraud and money laundering.
All of the accused except for Lacroix were released on bail with a promise to return to court in September, when they will face a single jury trial. The former Norbourg president will continue to serve his prison sentence for violating the Quebec Securities Act.
Lacroix faces 200 charges, the largest number filed against any of the six suspects, said RCMP officer Yves Roussel.
"We plan to show that the persons accused participated [in] or facilitated fraud totalling $95 million and participated in the recycling of several millions of dollars obtained by the proceeds of criminal activity," he said.
The alleged crimes were committed in the greater Montreal area between September 2002 and August 2005.
It's the first time criminal charges have been laid in connection with the scandal.
Investors lost millions
Lacroix, who has already been found guilty of violating Quebec's Securities Act on 51 fraud charges related to the Norbourg scam, was sentenced this winter to 12 years minus a day in prison.
More than 9,000 investors were defrauded of a total of $115 million when Lacroix made a series of illegal transactions through the investment house.
The RCMP arrests will likely net little for those investors, Cpl. Luc Bessette said.
"Our task was not only to investigate the alleged wrongdoings, but also to prove the criminal intent of the perpetrators," Bessette said. "Our role was not to recover money for the victims."
Officers arrested all the suspects except for Lacroix and Renaud in a series of early morning raids Wednesday.
Lacroix was handcuffed and escorted out of his cell in a detention centre outside Montreal.
Renaud was arrested at about 10:45 a.m. ET, after the Finance Ministry announced he had been fired from his position.
Opposition parties demand public inquiry, extra compensation
The Quebec government said it isn’t ready to call a public inquiry into the Norbourg fraud scandal, despite calls from opposition parties for an official probe.
The Liberal minority government won’t call an inquiry as long as criminal cases are pending before the courts, said Premier Jean Charest.
The Action Démocratique du Québec demanded the government launch a formal investigation after new fraud allegations surfaced following Wednesday’s Norbourg arrests.
Renaud was a long-serving civil servant in Quebec's Finance Ministry until Wednesday morning, when he was fired hours before police took him into custody.
ADQ Leader Mario Dumont said Renaud's alleged involvement in Norbourg raises suspicions, especially regarding a difficult period the company weathered in 2001.
The investment company nearly collapsed that year, Dumont said, but "by some miracle," Norbourg got a $1 million provincial tax credit.
Renaud helped approve the bailout, Dumont alleged during question period.
There can't be a public inquiry while the Crown pursues criminal charges in court, said Finance Minister Monique Jérôme-Forget.
There are no plans to provide additional compensation for victims of the fraud, she added.
Victims already have access to a $24 million fund created by proceeds generated from Norbourg and Lacroix's former assets.
With files from the Canadian Press