Montreal

Opposition demands UPAC pursue probe of Jean Charest, former Liberal fundraiser

Opposition parties are demanding Quebec's anti-corruption unit continue to delve into Jean Charest's and ex-Liberal fundraiser Marc Bibeau’s activities, following a media report that both were investigated until 2016.

PQ Leader Jean-François Lisée wants Charest, Marc Bibeau to appear before parliamentary commission

Jean Charest (left) and ex-Liberal party fundraiser Marc Bibeau were investigated by UPAC for activities that predate Charest's election as premier. (Radio-Canada)

Opposition parties are demanding Quebec's anti-corruption unit, UPAC, delve into former premier Jean Charest's and ex-Liberal organizer Marc Bibeau's political financing activities, in the wake of reports both men had been under investigation until last year.

That investigation, part of Operation Mâchurer, focused on potential illegal political financing and the granting of public contracts.

Radio-Canada had previously reported UPAC had Charest and Bibeau under its radar in 2013 for fundraising activities dating back a decade earlier, before Charest became premier.

UPAC has not confirmed that that investigation is still underway. However, in an uncorroborated report, the French-language network TVA said Charest and Bibeau's activities were still being probed as late as last year.

'Who pulled the strings?' PQ wants to know 

Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée expressed frustration at how long the UPAC investigation has been underway with no apparent results.

"For some time, we've been asking ourselves about Liberal immunity within the justice system," Lisée said.

PQ Leader Jean-François Lisée says he wants to know if Liberals have 'immunity within the justice system.' (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

"Does it exist? Is there influence, pressure, nominations, a system which is preventing the largest corruption inquiry in Quebec's political history from ever figuring out who pulled the strings?" he asked.

"We would like to hear directly from Mr. Charest and Mr. Bibeau in parliamentary commission because they haven't been heard by anyone at this point, and that is extraordinarily frustrating."

"It's not normal that a former premier is under criminal investigation for corruption," said the Coalition Avenir Québec's integrity critic, Nathalie Roy, at a news conference Tuesday.

She demanded the government share details of all current and former contracts and leases involving Bibeau and his businesses.

"[Philippe Couillard] said that he would have a transparent government. Well, it's time to show it," she said.

"UPAC officers have to continue their work, and the DPCP [Director of criminal and penal prosecutions] will have to seriously analyze what the anti-corruption unit will give them, if they give them anything at all," said the CAQ's justice critic, Simon Jolin-Barrette.

Québec Solidaire, too, is demanding to know why the investigation has dragged on so long.

"I started asking questions on this in 2010. Seven years is a little long to wait for justice to be served," said Mercier MNA Amir Khadir.

Not a matter of political affiliation

When pressed by reporters at the National Assembly, Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux said he isn't concerned about "a political party, but for the integrity of the system itself."

Quebec Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux said the leaked report lead him to worry about the integrity of UPAC's investigation. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

"No one in Quebec is above the law, and the anti-corruption unit has all the latitude necessary to investigate any citizen," he said, adding that he's concerned about information from UPAC being leaked to the media, as it could "contaminate" potential evidence.

Coiteux's concerns were echoed by Liberal MNA Robert Poëti, a former police officer, who said the leaks raise questions about the integrity of the UPAC investigation.

No word from UPAC

Poëti said UPAC it's now up to UPAC to explain how the leaks occurred, however, UPAC has not responded to requests for comment.

The corruption unit's head, Commissioner Robert Lafrenière, is expected to appear before a National Assembly committee reviewing public security spending on May 4. 

Opposition parties have already said they'll have questions for him about Operation Mâchurer.

Lawyers representing Bibeau indicated to CBC in an email that their client "is appalled that confidential information apparently obtained during an investigation, including personal information, was deliberately leaked to the media solely in order to damage his reputation, on the basis of conjecture."

A spokesperson for the former Liberal premier issued a two-sentence news release on Tuesday evening, quoting Charest as saying, "I note the statement from the Director of criminal and penal prosecutions, that 'no file has been transmitted to its office.' I'll make no other comment, except to reaffirm my innocence in the face of the rumours that are circulating."

With files from Radio-Canada

now