Charbonneau commission: A look back at the explosive testimony and key witnesses

As the Charbonneau commission into corruption in Quebec's construction industry draws to a close, here's a look back at the key witnesses and the explosive testimony.

Former premier Jean Charest's Liberal government enacted the corruption inquiry in 2011 amid public pressure

The commission under Justice France Charbonneau looked into allegations of corruption in the province's construction industry. (Graham Hughes / Canadian Press)

This week Justice France Charbonneau is expected to hand down her final report on allegations of widespread corruption in Quebec's construction industry.

The long-awaited report is the culmination of years of work — the corruption inquiry was first announced in October 2011 by former premier Jean Charest

As the commission draws to a close, here's a look back at the key witnesses and the explosive testimony heard by Charbonneau and her fellow commissioner, Renaud Lachance.

Lino Zambito — a former executive of Infrabec Construction, a major contractor for the City of Montreal —​ delivered some of the most hotly anticipated testimony at the corruption inquiry.

He named names and detailed his involvement in a collusion scheme that included billing City Hall for falsified expenses on municipal projects, rigging bids for public works contracts and paying off the Mob. He also explained how a cartel of companies split up contracts in Montreal and Laval.

Zambito has since pleaded guilty to six charges, including fraud and conspiracy.

Zambito also told the commission that entrepreneurs on Laval construction projects were expected to give a "cut" worth 2.5 per cent of the value of each contract to Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt. 

Within a month, Vaillancourt — who had served as Laval's mayor since 1989 — resigned and is currently awaiting trial on 12 charges, including conspiracy, fraud, breach of trust and gangsterism.

Nathalie Normandeau is a former provincial Liberal cabinet minister who has faced a number of questions regarding illegal campaign fundraising.

She's also been accused of accepting lavish gifts from companies.

Star witness Zambito said he gave Normandeau tickets to concerts on several occasions and sent her roses, and he ended up organizing a political fundraising event for her.

Documents obtained by Radio-Canada last year showed that Normandeau overruled senior bureaucrats when she was municipal affairs minister to award a contract for an $11 million Boisbriand water-treatment facility to engineering firm Roche.

The allegations have not been proven in court.

Tony Accurso fought his subpoena to appear before the commission all the way to the Supreme Court. Star witness Lino Zambito told the commission that the now-deceased boss of the Montreal Mafia, Vito Rizzuto, once mediated a dispute he had with Accurso over the awarding of a particular contract. Accurso denied ever meeting Rizzuto.

Photos of union bosses and city officials partying on Accurso's luxury yacht, The Touch, may be among the most iconic images of the commission.

Accurso freely admitted to having close family-like relationships with high-ranking union leaders, many of whom vacationed in the Caribbean on his boat. But he also denied ever using his connections to secure contracts.

He also told the commission that he had an extensive network of contacts that included some members of the Montreal Mafia. However, on his final day of testimony, he denied the alleged Mob connections

Accurso is awaiting trial on several charges, including fraud, forgery, conspiracy and breach of trust.

Described by police as the "middleman" between the industry and the Montreal Mob, Nicolo Milioto memorably denied even knowing what the Mafia was when he took the witness box in February 2013. 

During four days of heated testimony, "Mr. Sidewalk," as he was known for his stranglehold on city contracts, denied virtually every allegation against him.

He was infamously caught on surveillance video stuffing cash from a construction boss into his socks and handing it to a known associate of Nick Rizzuto Sr., the patriarch of the reputed crime family, at a once-popular Mafia hangout in Montreal.

Milioto admitted that he took money from another construction entrepreneur and brought it to the former Don of the Montreal Mob, but he insisted he was merely doing a favour for a friend and didn't ask what the cash was for.

A former employee of the FTQ labour federation's construction wing, Ken Pereira told the commission he stole documents from the union's office that showed its executive director, Jocelyn Dupuis, was running up "astronomical" expenses.

After he turned to police and investigative journalist Alain Gravel, he said it became clear his life was in danger. 

He said the federation's top brass tried to buy his silence, offering him $300,000. He also testified he was told to shut up by a highly placed associate of Montreal's Mob, Raynald Desjardins

Pereira also testified that organized criminals fixed the 2008 election for the union's executive.

Giuseppe Borsellino shed light on the extent of the widespread collusion scheme involving Montreal public works contracts that saw bids rigged in exchange for kickbacks and false extras approved for additional profits. 

Testifying in franglais, Borsellino uttered the line that will go down in history as a succinct summation of how the rigging of infrastructure contracts at City Hall worked: "Sir, all I am saying is, madame la présidente, is that everything there is truqué."

He readily admitted to taking part in the scheme, however, he said it was not construction bosses, but a City of Montreal engineer who came up with the cash-for-contracts deal.

Earlier in the commission hearings, that engineer, Gilles Surprenant, struggled to hold back tears as he told the commission how he was corrupted by the entrepreneurs. He admitted to pocketing $600,000 in kickbacks. 

Borsellino also told the commission that he was actively solicited to attend cocktail fundraisers thrown by political parties, which pitched them as networking opportunities. He said he eventually stopped attending the events because he deemed the donations "unethical."

Gilles Cloutier described himself as an election fixer in his Charbonneau commission testimony, admitting to involvement in 60 turnkey elections in areas around Montreal while working for the engineering firm Roche.

The firm, he said, then benefited from municipal contracts. 

He regaled the inquiry with tales of rigging elections, cooking books, flipping houses and illegal political fundraising, later admitting he had lied about some of it. Cloutier was arrested in September 2014 on perjury allegations related to his testimony.

No charges have been laid. 

Bernard Trépanier earned his nickname, "Mr. Three per cent," by allegedly charging a three-per-cent fee to companies for which he helped win construction contracts.

The former head of fundraising for the now-defunct Union Montréal party told the commission a system of contract-sharing among engineering firms existed before he started with the party in 2004.

He said he shared information with the firms about upcoming projects and helped to make sure the work was divided up fairly amongst them.

In July 2015, UPAC raided Trépanier's home in connection with the water-meter scandal.

Michel Lalonde was the self-described liaison between Montreal engineering firms and the Union Montréal party.

He detailed for the commission a kickback scheme that he says directly benefited the former mayor's party for more than six years.

Lalonde, an executive with the engineering firm Génius Conseil, testified that he was asked to act as the "spokesperson" for the construction firms in the decision-making process over which firms were to become eligible for city contracts.

Lalonde testified that he worked with Trépanier to choose contractors from a pool of firms which were in on the bid-rigging.

Lalonde estimated that his firm gave between $50,000 and $100,000 a year to the municipal party between 2004 and 2009.

Mayor Gérald Tremblay's former right-hand man, Frank Zampino – the former chair of the city's executive committee – has come under increased scrutiny since his testimony before the Charbonneau inquiry for his alleged involvement in the awarding of the GÉNIeau water-meter contract.

Court documents released at the end of 2014 show that police used his agenda to track Zampino's whereabouts, placing him at meetings with several entrepreneurs in the running for the contract.

During the course of the corruption inquiry, Zampino's name peppered the testimony from a stream of witnesses who had worked in the construction industry. Many pointed to Zampino as the man pulling the strings in an alleged scheme involving engineering firms making donations to the Union Montréal party, in exchange for entry into a contract-sharing arrangement.

Zampino left municipal politics in 2008. He was arrested in 2012 and charged with fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust. Investigators allege Zampino was the mastermind behind a scheme to favour one company in the awarding of a $300 million municipal contract for the Faubourg-Contrecoeur housing development project.

Former Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblaywho stepped down from his post while pleading his innocence months before his testimony, told the commission he knew nothing about an alleged system of public contract collusion.

He learned of the allegations in a 2009 auditor general's report, he testified.

He also denied knowing anything about off-the-books fundraising by his party, Union Montréal, although other witnesses testified funds were solicited in exchange for favourable access to city contracts.

UPAC raided his home this past summer, citing "reasonable and probable grounds to believe that Tremblay knew" about Union Montréal's illegal financing scheme.

None of the allegations against Tremblay has been tested in court.

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