An independent commission created last year by Quebec Premier Jean Charest to probe construction industry corruption in the province will begin calling witnesses to testify in June, using new subpoena powers. Further, on April 27, the body won a court ruling that orders Canada’s national police force to release documents from a related probe of organized crime.
The hearings will further explore allegations of links among municipal officials, design firm and contractor executives, politicians and even Mafia figures in awarding public contracts. An April 17 police sting resulted in the arrest of 15 officials and managers of industry firms, including two U.S.-owned companies, in a probe of contract bribes dating back to 2005.
The announcement follows the April 17 arrest of 15 people, including managers of several prominent construction industry firms in the province. The group, which also includes executives of two firms owned by U.S. companies, were the target of a sting by provincial authorities in and around Montreal as part of an 18-month bribery and fraud probe linked to municipal awards dating back to 2005.
Robert Lafreniére, head of the province's anti-corruption unit, said that investigators also are looking into major contract awards by utility Hydro-Quebec and the provincial transportation ministry and at infrastructure contracts in Plan Nord, the province's 25-year project to develop natural resource mining in northern Quebec, say published reports in Canada. He declined to offer details.
Witnesses will be required, under subpoena, to appear at the hearings that will continue until the end of June. The commission will recess for the summer and then resume in September, says spokesperson Richard Bourdon.
A commission web site has been set up with a toll-free telephone number for Quebec residents to leave tips or information in French, English, or Italian. Reports that the site’s email system has been hacked are unfounded, he says.
The arrested individuals, who included the mayor of a Montreal suburb, face a total of 47 counts of fraud, fraud against the government, acts of corruption in municipal affairs, influencing a municipal official, conspiracy, use of forged documents and other charges. The charges relate to unspecified projects in Mascouche, a city just north of Montreal, and elsewhere.
Among those arrested were two employees of Laval-based engineering firm BPR Triax, which was acquired by Tetra Tech, Pasadena, Calif., in 2010. They are Rosaire Fontaine, a vice president, and André de Maisonneuve, an engineer. BPR Triax also was charged.
Talia Starkey, a Tetra Tech spokeswoman, says the U.S. parent was not aware of the alleged bribes and is fully cooperating with authories to investigate the allegations.
Starkey says the two employees "have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation by Tetra Tech." She says the firm has about 40 employees.
Also arrested and charged was Pierre Raymond, director of buildings for Tecsult Inc., a Montreal consultant that was acquired by AECOM in 2008. It had 1,100 employees at the time.
It was not clear if the allegations against Raymond, who joined the firm in 2008, were related to his position at Tecsult or his previous employer. "We are aware of the situation, but have not been contacted by authorities and are not aware of any allegation of improper activity by anyone acting on behalf of this company," says AECOM Senior Vice President Paul Gennaro. Tecsult was not charged.
Among those also arrested and charged were Antonio Accurso, owner of Simard-Beaudry Construction Inc., a leading Laval-based construction firm, and a string of other companies that have won project contracts in Montreal. In 2010, Simard-Beaudry was convicted of tax evasion. An investigation by the Canada Revenue Agency revealed the company deducted $3.5 million in “fictitious expenses from false invoices” for the years 2005 to 2008.
Normand Trudel, owner of heavy-civil contractor Transport et Excavation Mascouche Inc., Mascouche, also was arrested and his firm also was charged.
The 15 people charged and released will appear in court on June 19, says Jean Pascal Boucher, a spokesperson for the Quebec Crown Attorney's office.