The man allegedly at the centre of a collusion and contract-rigging scheme in public infrastructure projects in Montreal says that he received insider information from a city official, but never about contract values.

Bernard Trépanier returned to the witness box at the province’s corruption commission for a third day this morning and was pressed on phone calls and meetings he had with the city’s former head of public works, Robert Marcil.

Break in hearings

The Charbonneau commission is now taking a scheduled two week break in its public hearings. Trépanier will return to the witness box when proceedings resume on April 15.

 

Marcil quit his job with SMi Group, an international engineering firm, last week, a month after after testifying that he knew nothing of bribe-taking by the bureaucrats working under him and denying that he was an integral part of a system of corruption and collusion.

Trepanier told the commission that Marcil gave him privileged information about upcoming city projects – information he, in turn, delivered to engineering firms to drum up donations for the party.

"I knew there was a project on or around this date," Trépanier said. "But, that’s it. I never knew the amount [of the contract]."

He said the information was more precise but was based on general infrastructure plans the mayor would address in speeches at fundraising cocktails.

Trépanier said he often spoke with Marcil three or four weeks before the call for tenders were officially released.

That was enough time to allow the firms to form consortiums to bid for the projects.

Trépanier said Marcil would also call him as soon as the selection committee had made a decision and tell him the result.

Trépanier said he’d then call the firms and congratulate them.

'I sold tables'

The former fundraising director, who left the party quietly in 2006, has been identified by several engineering executives as the middleman between the industry and the lucrative city contracts.

Many of the executives, several of whom resigned their posts after testifying, told the commission that Trepanier demanded political donations for Union Montreal in exchange for participating in a closed-market scheme that saw a handful of firms taking turns in a rigged system for contracts.

They described handing Trépanier envelopes and briefcases filled with cash.

Trépanier has denied playing a central role in the scheme. He said he helped the firms who were supportive of the party to form consortiums but did not demand a three per cent pay back for the party, as many of the witnesses have claimed.

He insists that he used information on which firms obtained which contracts with the city to press the firms for donations to the party, but only through the purchase of tickets to the party’s cocktail fundraisers.

"I sold tables," Trepanier repeated again today.

"So the three per cent, according to you, it’s not possible," commission prosecutor Denis Gallant pressed.

"No," he responded.

Morrow denies fake invoicing

Earlier this morning, the commission heard from André Morrow, the president of Morrow Communications, who testified about a $75,000 invoice he billed to SNC-Lavalin in 2005.

Morrow said he billed the engineering firm for a retainer that it had requested for PR services in the future.

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André Morrow said he billed Union Montréal for work he did on the election campaign and was paid by the party. (Charbonneau commission)

However, other witnesses have told the commission that contract was actually a means for the engineering firm to donate to the former mayor's Union Montréal party.

Yves Cadotte, a vice-president with SNC-Lavalin, told the commission last week that he gave $75,000 to the party by paying the bill from Morrow Communications at the request of Trépanier.

Morrow flatly denied that claim and said while he worked for Union Montréal during the campaign, he billed to and was paid by the party.

The bill in question, dated Nov. 15, 2005, was for future, as needed, services his firm was to provide to SNC-Lavalin, Morrow said, and had nothing to do with the work that was done during the campaign.

'Surprised' by witness claims of shady billing

He said his company did little or no work as part of the contract. The first time he heard the claim that it was paid for services rendered to the political party was during testimony at the commission, Morrow said.

"If I had known there was a possibility that it could be linked to Union Montréal, I would have got up. I would have refused and I would have left," he said.

Morrow said the cheque from SCN-Lavalin was cashed and stayed in the firm.

Cadotte told the inquiry last week that the cheque cut to Morrow Communications was part of a $200,000 political donation to the party made so the firm could participate in a closed-market contract sharing scheme that was organized by Trépanier.

Cadotte told the inquiry that the $200,000 payment was made in two instalments, one of which was the payment to the communications firm.

Trépanier, whose testimony was interrupted so the commission could hear from Morrow, denied having asked Cadotte to cover that bill .