Tony Accurso says he never used his luxury yacht, the Touch, for shady business and what other people did on their own boats had nothing to do with him.
The highly anticipated but reluctant witness returned to Quebec's corruption inquiry today for more questioning on his role in an alleged system of collusion that rigged the bidding process for public contracts.
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Commission lawyer Sonia Lebel presented Accurso with wiretap evidence between high-ranking union leaders Michel Arsenault and Gilles Audette discussing an alleged deal Arsenault hammered out on a yacht in Cannes.
She asked Accurso, who photographic evidence has shown hosted his friends from high places within union and municipal ranks, if that's how deals were done.
"When he says that there's nothing reprehensible about it, that's how it works in the business world.... Deals can be closed on boats, deals closed on vacation. In a general sense, to your knowledge, [is that how it works]?" Lebel asked.
"Me, I can only tell you what I did with my boat on my boat. What others did on their boats — there are boats all over and there are boats used for all sorts of reasons. Me, it wasn't for that reason there," Accurso replied.
Lebel later hammed Accurso with questions about a trip he took with Jean Lavallée, former head of the construction wing of Quebec's biggest labour federation the FTQ, Bernard Girard, executive vice president of the FTQ's construction arm and others in 2008.
The prosecutor asked several times if the aim of that trip was to strategize for the upcoming election for the head of FTQ-Construction.
Other witnesses, including former FTQ employee Ken Pereira, have told the commission about significant outside influence on those elections that included the Mob and the Hells Angels.
Accurso denied having any involvement in union affairs, saying it was better, as an entrepreneur, to stay out of union in-fighting.
He said he didn't invite Girard on the trip in question and it was Lavallée who added him to the guest list.
Accurso footed the bill for Girard as he did for all of his guests except for, he made a point of noting, the former head of the Montreal executive committee, Frank Zampino.
He did say he would give his opinion on union matters to friends, if solicited, but denied using his friendships for influence or favouritism.
'Minor contacts' in the Montreal Mafia
Accurso spent much of the morning detailing his relationships with some of the more than 3,500 people he said he had in his Rolodex, including high-ranking union leaders and reputed members of the Montreal Mafia.
Accurso said Lavallée was "like a brother." He referred to another former union boss, Louis Laberge, as a father figure.
However he denied that his tight relationship with the union heads, which included vacations and holiday celebrations spent together, offered him any preferential treatment or privileged access to the union's investment fund.
He also admitted that the former head of the Montreal Mafia, the late Vito Rizzuto, and Vito's son Nick Jr. were "minor contacts."
Accurso has previously denied testimony from an earlier witness who told the commission that Vito Rizzuto was involved as a mediator in a business dispute that involved Accurso. He said the meeting never happened.
Accurso's name has come up numerous times at the inquiry, particularly when the commission focused on the alleged system of collusion among companies bidding for contracts with the City of Montreal.
He was also heard in wiretap conversations when the spotlight was on the FTQ, Quebec's largest labour federation, and how close union members were to those in the construction world.
But Tuesday marked the first time the commission has heard from Accurso himself. He did not co-operate with commission investigators and had fought his subpoena right up to the Supreme Court, arguing that his testimony would jeopardize his right to a fair trial.
He faces an array of criminal charges related to the awarding of municipal contracts in the Quebec municipalities of Mascouche and Laval, and argued that testifying would jeopardize his right to a fair trial.
Accurso and his companies are also charged with tax fraud.
His testimony continues Thursday.
Key testimony mentioning Tony Accurso:
- Two witnesses have alleged Accurso met with mob boss Vito Rizzuto on two different occasions to talk business.
- The inquiry heard allegations Accurso had a close relationship with members of the powerful FTQ union federation, including the former president, Michel Arsenault, as well as allegations the construction entrepreneur received preferential treatment from the FTQ's publicly funded investment fund.
- Accurso's name came up repeatedly when the inquiry examined the way public contracts were awarded in Montreal. Former president of the city's executive committee Frank Zampino met with Accurso frequently while a lucrative water-meter contract was being negotiated, and vacationed on the businessman's boat three times.