Applebaum: I'm not under investigation
Published Friday, January 11, 2013 4:16PM EST
Last Updated Friday, January 11, 2013 10:39PM EST
Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum felt both sides of the corruption blade Friday: in the morning he launched a new squad aimed at preventing shady dealings and just hours later found himself addressing a published report which stated that he himself is under investigation for real estate dealings.
Le Devoir newspaper had reported earlier Friday that the Charbonneau Commission is investigating Applebaum for land dealings he oversaw in Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace, where he served as borough mayor for a decade
“The article in Le Devoir is not true,” said Applebaum in a late afternoon press conference.
“I am not under investigation and I will collaborate with the Charbonneau Commission in order to make clear what has happened in the past in the city of Montreal,” he said.
Applebaum added, however, that he could not divulge the exact nature of his discussions with Charbonneau commission agents and refused to confirm or deny whether the discussions touched on real estate dealings in Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace, where he served as an elected official while simultaneously working as a realtor for 15 years.
Later Friday Applebaum met with the Charbonneau commission representatives for about 90 minutes and said that he did not know if he would be asked to meet with them again but would be happy to do so if asked.
The controversy overshadowed Applebaum’s earlier announcement of a new anti-corruption unit that would have sweeping powers.
The squad will be comprised of about 20 members, mostly experienced investigators, who will have the power to question all city employees and anyone who conducts business with the city.
"I am opening the door of the city administration for them," the mayor told a news conference earlier Friday.
“They will be allowed to look and search everywhere...I want to be perfectly clear -- if you're trying to defraud Montreal and its taxpayers, think twice.
"That reach includes being able to look into real-estate transactions, municipal contracts, infrastructure projects and even the purchase of clothes for firefighters."This new squad will be autonomous and independent," Applebaum said. "Nobody is untouchable."
The province already has its own anti-corruption unit called UPAC.
Montreal police Chief Marc Parent said he has already been in touch with the head of the provincial squad as well as the head of the provincial police and Justice France Charbonneau, who chairs the provincial Charbonneau Commission.
He said sharing information will be vital.
"We can bring our expertise on the field," he said. "We're already there. We already know this environment of organized crime but also the City of Montreal."
Parent said Montreal police are already conducting their own investigation into city corruption but he would not elaborate.
Allegations of widespread corruption in the province over the last year or so have led to the resignation of various mayors, including Montreal's Gerald Tremblay and Laval's Gilles Vaillancourt.
Applebaum said he was to meet later on Friday with investigators at the Charbonneau Commission, which is looking into corruption in Quebec's construction industry.
"I'm going to tell you one thing: If I can help stop collusion and corruption in any way whatsoever, I will do so with pleasure," he said.
Jean-Francois Lisee, the Quebec cabinet minister responsible for the Montreal area, gave his support to the new unit.
"The squad is very good news for every honest Montrealer and very bad news for every crook in the city of Montreal," Lisee said. "It's going to be very, very tough to swindle Montrealers in the future as the squad will be permanent."
Applebaum as realtor
Applebaum was first elected to city council in 1994 and continued to work part-time as a realtor for Royal LePage until January 2009 when Mayor Tremblay named him to the city’s executive committee.
Records of Applebaum's dealings as a realtor are not public and Applebaum has not offered to make them public.
Applebaum also long oversaw the Cote-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grace borough zoning committee (CCU), which was operated under relative secrecy, as CTV Montreal has reported.
Throughout the years, some residents and political activists in Applebaum's borough expressed concern that Applebaum working as a realtor, while also serving as borough mayor, could be seen as a conflict of interest.
“I asked him about his real estate license and he doesn’t think this is conflict of interest that he is mayor,” Cote-des-Neiges resident Alana Ronald told CTV Montreal.
Richard Bergeron, whose Projet Montreal recently entered into Applebaum's executive committee coalition, was not ready to jump to any conclusions.
"I'm not surprised that the Charbonneau commission would want to meet with Applebaum, since he was the president of the executive committee for the past two years. Is there something specific to Mayor Applebaum as a topic of the meeting we don't know? It could be, if we believe La Presse and Le Devoir, but we're not forced to believe the papers."
Others interviewed in the street by CTV Montreal also felt that the mayor deserved the benefit of the doubt.
"Being in the commission does not make someone guilty," said one.
"I don't know what to say about that, I trust him," said another.
-With a file from The Canadian Press