Charbonneau Commission puts spotlight on dealings at private club
Published Wednesday, November 28, 2012 11:09AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, November 28, 2012 8:35PM EST
MONTREAL -- A number of high-ranking Quebec politicians are defending their meetings with construction bosses at an exclusive Montreal club that’s caught the attention of the province’s corruption commission.
Records seized from the members-only 357c club show a number of meetings between bosses identified by the Charbonneau Commission and former provincial ministers, senators and municipal politicians.
Among the names listed in the documents presented at the Commission Wednesday were Conservative Senator Leo Housakos, former Liberal minister Line Beauchamp and Joel Gauthier and Parti Quebecois Premier Pauline Marois.
Many were quick to defend the meetings to the press.
Housakos told The Canadian Press he received an invitation to join the club through construction mogul Paolo Catania and he would occasionally see club member Tony Accurso at the facility. The inquiry has heard extensive testimony about the two construction bosses and their Mafia ties. However, Housakos said he did not foresee the criminal accusations the two would one day face.
"All of us, if we knew things 20 years ago, or 10 years ago, or five ago, things we know today, we would probably react differently," said Housakos, who compared the commission to a “witch-hunt” against political fundraising.
"But when you interact with people, and meet with people, and talk with people, you don't assume that they will be accused or charged with serious crimes two or three or five years down the line.”
Housakos had been appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and is known as an influential party fundraiser.
Harper addressed the controversy Tuesday, saying that while “very troubling” allegations have emerged from the inquiry, he did not believe Housakos had been implicated through the findings.
Records obtained from the club reveal that Beauchamp dined with a number of individuals identified by the commission, including Catania.
On Wednesday she told reporters that the meetings did not concern any type of lobbying or fundraising activity.
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois said she frequents 357c for meetings “that are a little more private.”
Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau told CTV Montreal that meetings at the club were nothing out of the ordinary.
“It’s normal for the finance critic of the opposition party to meet with the president of the Board of Trade in Montreal. That’s a normal thing to do.”
Commission Counsel Denis Gallant noted Tuesday that the club itself is of no interest to the inquiry, and its owners have co-operated with investigators.
Gallant urged the public not to jump to conclusions, as there are more than 1,000 club members and the commission is only interested in about 100 of them.
Among other prominent guests were Tony Tomassi, who had dinner with Paolo Catania in April 2008. Tomassi was forced to resign in 2010 after reports surfaced he had been using a credit card provided by a company that had received millions in government grants.
Several members of Montreal's former executive committee also had dinner on several occasions with Catania. Aside from former head of the committe Frank Zampino and former head of the montreal housing and development board Martial Fillion, former RDP borough mayor Cosmo Maciocia, Ville-Marie borourgh councillor Sammy Forcillo and Lachine borough mayor Claude Dauphin could be found in the company of the controversial developer.
Montreal's head of engineering Robert Marcil, who recently testified at the commission, was also invited on several occasions. Former Chateauguay mayor Sergio Pavone also dined in the company of Catania and others.
Inquiry investigators became interested in the 357c in October after a witness, a loanshark with ties to Catania, mentioned making a cash drop at the establishment for a municipal official who now faces criminal charges.
With a report from CTV Montreal and files from The Canadian Press