Former Quebec construction tycoon Tony Accurso said it's no secret that he was a Liberal supporter and joked that he was blacklisted by Hydro-Québec from getting contracts because he might not have donated enough to the then-ruling Parti Québécois government.
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The revelations came this afternoon as Accurso's testimony at Quebec's corruption inquiry, which has largely focused on his high-placed union friends, ventured into the political sphere. Just before the Charbonneau Commission broke for the evening, commission counsel Sonia Lebel presented a photo of Accurso embracing former Liberal premier Jean Charest.
The photo was inscribed "Dear Tony, Thanks for your support. All the best, J Charest, 2001"
"I think it’s not a big secret that I’m more Liberal than I am PQ," Accurso said. "It’s not a big secret. That photo was taken at my restaurant [in Laval] and I was asked to put on a cocktail [fundraiser] and that’s it. I wasn’t involved in that activity, but I provided the place for them to come."
Two years later, Charest was elected premier of Quebec.
Thursday marked the third day of testimony for Accurso at the Charbonneau Commission, where he is being questioned on his role in an alleged system of collusion that rigged the bidding process for public contracts.
The former construction boss has spent much of his time at the inquiry denying allegations of influence peddling.
This afternoon, the commission heard wiretap evidence from September 2012 between Accurso, his son Jimmy, his friend and former city manager Robert Abdallah, and Michel Arsenault, who was at the time the head of Quebec's largest labour union.
Those conversations centred on a letter Accurso had received from Hydro-Québec informing him that he and his companies were no longer welcome to bid on their contracts.
An obviously angry Accurso first speaks with his son, then Abdallah, who once worked for Hydro-Québec. Lebel asked Accurso if he was trying to glean insider information from Abdallah, but Accurso said he was just trying to find out what was going on.
At the time, Accurso's firm was finishing a $60-million contract with Hydro-Québec for a tunnel project. The new tender was for a $25-million tunnel beside it. Accurso repeated over and over that he couldn't understand why his firm, which he described as the top excavation firm in Quebec, was being blacklisted.
He made another call to Arsenault, who was at the time at Quebec's national assembly in Quebec City. Accurso told him to check his email "while you're there."
Lebel pressed Accurso on that line, asking why it was so important that Arsenault check the letter while he was at the legislature. Accurso said he just meant before returning to Montreal.
Eventually, Accurso called Abdallah back, telling him to let it go. He had put a call in to someone close to the PQ and received a response.
"The message I got, it came from the office of Pauline Marois who had just taken power.... It was the office of Pauline Marois who called Hydro-Québec to say block them from the [job]," Accurso said.
"Did they explain why the office of Pauline Marois called Hydro-Québec to say that?" Lebel asked.
"Absolutely not. That's what I wanted to know. Who blocked it, because it's impossible that it came from Hydro-Québec, in my opinion.... If we were blocked for a political reasons, I think it’s disgusting," Accurso said.
"Maybe I didn’t give enough money to the PQ, I don’t know," he continued, with a frustrated laugh.
Earlier that year, Accurso had been arrested twice — initially by the province's anti-corruption unit on charges of breach of trust, conspiracy and defrauding the government related to municipal contracts, and later, in August, in connection with an alleged multimillion-dollar tax evasion conspiracy.
Much of the focus of Accurso's testimony thus far has been on his close relationships with the heads of the FTQ, Quebec's largest labour union, and its construction and investment arms.
Accurso's companies landed a significant share — somewhere between 10 and 15 per cent — of the investments made by the FTQ's real estate investment fund, SOLIM.
However, Accurso stated many times that he approached SOLIM with the projects, not the other way around. And he had a handful that were rejected.
The only advantage he may have had, he told the commission, was being able to move to the front of the line in an urgent situation — such as when he acquired construction firm Simard-Beaudry Construction in 1999 with money from the FTQ investment fund.
Accurso has freely admitted to his close, family-like relationships with high-ranking union leaders, many of whom vacationed in the Caribbean on his boat.
He also confirmed he has an extensive network of contacts that includes some members of Montreal organized crime.
On Wednesday, he told the commission that Vito Rizzuto, the former head of the Montreal Mafia, was a "minor contact," someone he would run into occasionally. Rizzuto's son, Nick Rizzuto Jr., was also grouped in that list of "petits contacts."
It was a significant admission for a man who has spent years denying he had any connection to members of organized crime.
On Thursday, he also stressed that he never invited elected officials, municipal or provincial, on his infamous yacht, the Touch. But among the names on the guest list he provided to the commission was one celebrity: Mick Jagger.
Accurso faces an array of criminal charges related to the awarding of municipal contracts in the 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 Friday.
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.