A former member of the selection committee evaluating bids for the billion-dollar McGill University superhospital project says her boss told her to "remember where [her] paycheque comes from" while pushing for the SNC-Lavalin bid to come out on top.
Immacalata Franco, an assistant director at the MUHC, told the province's corruption inquiry this afternoon that she was pressured by her superior Yanaï Elbaz in the fall of 2009 to push for the SNC-GISN consortium to win the $1.34 billion contract for the new MUHC superhospital.
The Charbonneau Commission is taking a closer look at allegations of collusion at Montreal's English-language superhospital project, an investigation which one officer who testified before the commission deemed,"the biggest fraud and corruption investigation in Canadian history."
The commission is looking at how an alleged multi-million dollar kickback scheme sprouted from one of Canada's most expensive public works projects.
Franco, who has a background in health care, told the commission she was brought on board on the selection committee because of her expertise in the clinical needs of the project. She said she had significant influence over the clinical members of the committee and she was being pressured by her superiors to sway their decision.
She said it was clear that the message delivered in her office by Elbaz was coming from "the boss," Dr. Arthur Porter, then the director general and CEO of the MUHC.
Elbaz, who investigators allege received an $11 million kickback for helping SNC-Lavalin secure the contract, was at the time the executive responsible for planning, redevelopment and real estate at the MUHC and Porter's right-hand man.
Commission prosecutor Cainnech Lussiaà-Berdou asked Franco how many times she received a similar order from Elabaz.
"Just one time... One time was enough," she said.
Franco said she was committed to following the official process and didn't try to sway her colleagues toward the SNC-Lavalin bid, which scored lower than its competitor on an evaluation by the government agency responsible for public-private partnerships, PPP Quebec.
She said she urged them to maintain their professionalism and not to let the preference of Porter influence their decision.
Franco said it therefore came as a surprise when a memo was circulated in December 2009 announcing SNC-Lavalin as the winner of the contract.
The Quebec government ultimately ended up sending the bids back for a second look, but this time Elbaz and Porter left Franco off the decision-making bodies.
SNC-Lavalin ended up with the lucrative contract in 2010 after a second process.
Selection committee stacked with MUHC staff
Earlier in the morning, a former representative from the government agency responsible for public-private partnerships testified that there were irregularities in the process to award contracts for the new McGill University Heath Centre, but he never suspected there had been collusion.
Gabriel Soudry worked for the government agency PPP Quebec when the bids for the superhospital contract were being evaluated.
He said the selection committee that was evaluating bids for the $1.3-billion hospital project was dominated by MUHC staff. Of the committee's 11 members, six were from the MUHC.
Soudry also told the inquiry that, during the selection process, MUHC officials were trying to disqualify the Spanish consortium OHL's bid. OHL was the main competitor of Montreal-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin.
He said St-Clair Armitage, who was a consultant for the MUHC, wrote a bogus report trying to discredit OHL.
Soudry also said that Porter halted the entire selection process after his agency gave a higher score to OHL's bid.
Despite those inconsistencies, Soudry said he didn't suspect there was any bid-rigging in the works. He said he was taken aback when an arrest warrant was issued for Armitage, who is still considered a fugitive and is wanted by Interpol.
He said he didn't think Armitage was involved in the alleged conspiracy involving the former CEO of SNC-Lavalin Pierre Duhaime and Porter.
Eight people have been criminally charged to date in connection with alleged fraud and collusion connected to the superhospital contract.
The case is slowly winding its way through court and a preliminary hearing scheduled for early next year.