Tony Accurso says he paid off Jacques Duchesneau's debt
Former Montreal police chief calls allegations 'totally false, absurd'
Former Quebec construction magnate Tony Accurso says he gave $250,000 to an associate of Jacques Duchesneau to pay off the one-time Montreal mayoral candidate's debt after an election defeat.
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It was shocking testimony at the Charbonneau commission, given that Duchesneau, former Montreal police chief and member of the National Assembly, was the man who essentially triggered the corruption inquiry and has become known as Quebec's white knight in the battle against corruption and collusion.
Duchesneau quickly responded, telling Radio-Canada the allegations are "totally false, absurd and [there are] no grounds to [them]."
Duchesneau said he has not been watching Accurso's testimony, but received several calls about it. He said the money used to clear his debts actually came from star bodybuilder Ben Weider.
Accurso was testifying at the Charbonneau commission for a fourth day. On Friday, commission counsel Sonia Lebel focused on political donations and the lavish vacations Accurso took with high-ranking union members and well-positioned friends.
Accurso freely admitted to taking part in a so-called straw man scheme, in which he would reimburse his employees for making the maximum $3,000 donation to political parties. It's illegal in Quebec for businesses to make such donations and also illegal for them to reimburse employees for doing so.
However, the commission has heard from several witnesses who said it was a regular practice among engineering and construction firms who were after lucrative public contracts.
Accurso told the commission that the donations were not made in exchange for particular contracts, but rather were like the price of admission to be part of the pool of eligible firms.
He said he was afraid of what would happen if he didn't participate and alleged that politicians have ways of stalling bids and raising costs if they didn't want a particular bidder to get the final contract.
Accurso told the commission that he made donations to municipal parties as well as provincial, but always did so by cheque.
He said he was approached by someone close to Duchesneau, a man named "Richard something," after the former police chief lost his bid to become Montreal mayor in 1998.
Accurso said the man set up a meeting between him and Duchesneau, who had significant debt after his defeat and had a mortgage on his home. Accurso said he gave a $250,000 cheque to Richard's company to get Duchesneau out of the red.
"It was the first time I'd done that after a defeat," Accurso said. "He said, 'Tony, don't worry. I'm going to get my feet back on the ground and I'll help you out."
Accurso said he thought Duchesneau was headed to the private sector and would be able to later help him with contracts.
Liberal party links
Accuro's testimony finished Thursday with a photo of Accurso embracing former Quebec premier Jean Charest. The photo was snapped before Charest was premier during a party fundraising event at Accurso's Laval, Que., restaurant.
He told the commission he simply provided the venue for the event and wasn't involved in the actual donation collection.
He said he didn't know Charest well, but had dinner with him once before the Liberals were in power. Accurso said they talked about the FTQ, Quebec's largest labour union led by many of Accurso's good friends.
Accurso also told the commission about his other interactions with provincial politicians — that he went to the office of then Parti Québécois transport minister Guy Chevrette and asked for him to reconsider the public-private-partnerships (PPP) it was seeking for large road projects.
The witness insisted that his interest in changing the PPP system wasn't selfish — all Quebec entrepreneurs were being undercut by foreign financing, he said, and it wasn't fair.
With prompting from wiretap recordings of his phone calls, Accurso also told the commission about his September 2012 blacklisting from the Hydro-Québec tendering process, a decision that was visibly still distressing for Accurso.
After a series of phone calls to high-ranking union friends and former insiders, all caught on tape, Accurso said someone close to the PQ told him the office of newly elected premier Pauline Marois ordered the blacklisting.
Accurso was called to testify about his time as the head of one of the province's largest construction firms and 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.
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 Monday.
Key testimony mentioning Tony Accurso:
- Two witnesses have alleged Accurso met with mob boss Vito Rizzuto on two different occasions to talk business. In wiretap evidence played for the commission, former union boss Michel Arsenault mentions that the police have a photo of Rizzuto and Accurso and that journalists have seen the photo.
- 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.