Zambito facing cross-examination at Charbonneau Commission
Published Wednesday, October 17, 2012 10:20AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 17, 2012 7:58PM EDT
MONTREAL - After nearly three weeks on the stand, Wednesday was the last day of testimony for Lino Zambito at the Charbonneau Commission, as the star witness was grilled under cross-examination.
The former head of Infrabec construction is being cross-examined at the Charbonneau Commission.
During his testimony, the former head of Infrabec construction named many people as being corrupt, either demanding or accepting bribes and kickbacks in order to ensure construction contracts went to his firm.
Lawyers representing many of the people and organizations named by Zambito are trying to poke holes in the man's testimony.
On Wednesday Martin St-Jean, representing the City of Montreal, questioned Zambito about a $300,000 payment Zambito says went to former City Manager Robert Abdallah.
Zambito has admitted he never spoke directly with Abdallah, but said that the payment to Abdallah is mentioned in paperwork associated with a city contract.
"Yesterday I said that the extra amount that I owed as per the agreement we had with Mr. Abdallah was paid by Infrabec to Groupe Tremca," said Zambito.
"Mr. Abdallah, in this agreement, you never spoke to him?" asked St-Jean.
"No," replied Zambito.
"Mr. Abdallah, in this agreement, he never wrote to you and you never wrote to him?" asked St-Jean.
"No," said Zambito again.
Zambito’s answers were often convoluted and evasive.
“I had engineers, and it was their job to add everything up and get paid,” he said.
The exchange then became testy.
“It's easy to fire off names left and right, but there comes a time; when you have to come up with something solid,” said St-Jean.
“That’s what I’m trying to do,” Zambito fired back.
Abdallah, whose reputation also came under fire recently when his was learned that members of the Prime Minister's Office had lobbied to have him named as director of the Port of Montreal, has scheduled a news conference Thursday morning to defend his reputation.
The evidence supporting Zambito’s claims could be on its way, said Justice France Charbonneau.
“In a public inquiry, you have to start somewhere, and then the evidence follows,” she said.
The cross-examination revealed little that hadn’t already come out during Zambito’s testimony.
“I want to know why you decided to spill the beans and testify,” said St-Jean.
“I said that if I was called to testify, I would do what any citizen would be expected to do, by testifying at the Charbonneau Commission,” he said.
"I wanted to give testimony that reflected, to the best of my knowledge," he replied, "what I went through."
A commission lawyer chimed in with his own, alternate, interpretation: "I call that a subpoena," Denis Gallant quipped.
Accused feds fight back
People began fighting back Wednesday on multiple fronts: at the federal level, the provincial level, the municipal level, a provincial agency and at the inquiry itself.
In Ottawa, Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos made a rare public statement about the ongoing scandals in order to distance himself from one of the people Zambito accused of wrongdoing.
Housakos told reporters he never urged anyone in the Harper government to have Abdallah appointed as the head of the Port of Montreal. He confirmed that he knew Abdallah but said he wasn't involved in getting the Prime Minister's Office to promote his ultimately unsuccessful candidacy.
"He never asked me to intervene. I never had a conversation with Mr. Abdallah nor with anyone else on that subject," Housakos said.
"The first time I heard anything about this was in the newspapers."
It's unclear whether any players on the federal scene will be asked to testify at the inquiry. A spokesman for the Charbonneau commission told The Canadian Press that the inquiry views federal politics as extraneous to its mandate and said it could even interrupt any testimony that strays too close to Ottawa.
The senator issued his denial as Abdallah himself was preparing to go public with his own counter-attack.
Housakos was asked Wednesday why his name came up on that tape.
"That's a very good question. A very good question," he told reporters during an exchange after the weekly Conservative caucus meeting.
"The only thing I can tell you is that I never tried to influence a political decision of the federal government. Period."
Bibeau tries to clear his name
A senior executive at Quebec's provincial gaming corporation was also scrambling to protect his reputation.
Pierre Bibeau, a prominent organizer in the provincial Liberal party, has been temporarily reassigned from his job as a vice-president at Loto-Quebec while he fights to clear his name, according to a statement Wednesday.
Bibeau is alleged to have solicited and received a $30,000 cash donation from Zambito for a fundraiser featuring his former spouse, who was then Quebec's environment minister. Zambito testified that the transfer took place inside the gaming corporation's offices.
In a statement, the Crown corporation announced that Bibeau had agreed to the reassignment. Bibeau was in charge of public affairs and communications.
"(Bibeau), like any other citizen, enjoys the presumption of innocence, and he has in a statement strongly condemned the allegations of the witness against him," Loto-Quebec said in a statement.
Bibeau's reassignment came one day after construction magnate Tony Accurso announced his retirement while denouncing the testimony heard at the inquiry.
He had already denied testimony that he called in a Mafia don, Vito Rizzuto, to have a chat with his business rival, Zambito, when he tried to compete for a lucrative public contract.
Zambito delivered his testimony matter-of-factly, in a blue-collar patois, and he flinched only rarely -- such as when he chose his words carefully to describe industry ties to the Cosa Nostra.
He ultimately declared that he turned over 2.5 per cent of his proceeds to the Mob, in addition to myriad political kickbacks and big-rigging schemes that ramped up the cost of construction. Zambito is no longer in the construction business, after having been arrested, and he faces criminal charges.
His allegations about Abdallah brought the inquiry uncomfortably close to the seat of federal power.
With a report from The Canadian Press