Montreal’s political elite ‘disgusted’ by bribes
Published Friday, October 19, 2012 12:45PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, October 19, 2012 9:17PM EDT
MONTREAL— Michael Applebaum, the head of the city’s powerful executive committee, was clear on Friday morning, saying he was “disgusted” by Gilles Surprenant’s testimony at the Charbonneau Commission.
An engineer for the city, Surprenant was responsible for preparing plans and budget for construction contracts. He admitted to rigging projects for nearly 20 years, netting $600,000 worth of bribes while doing so.
To ease his conscience, Surprenant said he gambled most of the money away.
Now Applebaum says that the City of Montreal will try to reclaim money that was used to bribe the engineer.
"I have already asked the legal department to look at this dossier," said Applebaum. “On Monday they will come back with options on how we can recuperate some of this money.”
Surprenant said that because of his actions, the city ended up spending far more on contracts than was necessary. The first time the engineer took a bribe, in 1991, Montreal spent $500,000 on a contract he had earlier valued at $250,000.
After a $4,000 bribe, Surprenant doubled the value of the contract—a situation that would be repeated multiple times over the following two decades.
Most of the money Surprenant accepted as bribes is long gone. He says he lost half of it gambling in casinos and gave $100,000 to a construction company that was in tight financial straits.
According to Lino Zambino, a former construction company owner who testified at the corruption inquest, Surprenant was known amongst construction owners as “Mr. One per cent” or “Mr. TPS.” In French, the GST is known as the TPS.
In August, he gave investigators nearly $123, 000, saying it was all that remained of his ill-gotten gains.
The second-ranking elected official in Montreal did not mince words discussing the case.
"I am disgusted by what Mr.Surprenant said and his actions as a fonctionnaire of the City of Montreal," said Applebaum.
However, the opposition at city hall said that going after companies that overcharged the city is not enough.
The head of the official opposition, Louise Harel, said that corruption within the municipal bureaucracy is much deeper than one individual, and she placed full blame squarely on Mayor Gerald Tremblay’s shoulders.
“Mr. Surprenant is not only a one-man show. He is a member of a system and I accuse the mayor,” said Harel.
Stating that Tremblay had nine years to deal with allegations of corruption, while doing little to combat the rot, Harel called, once again, for the mayor to resign.
“What he did appears to have been part of a much broader system,” said Alex Norris, a member of Project Montreal, echoing Harel. “That was already in place and has been in place for a long time in Montreal.”
Investigators know of 90 contracts where Surprenant took a cut of the earnings. The former engineer will continue his testimony on Monday.