Reluctant witness Joe Borsellino is having his memory prodded by wiretapped phone calls as he testifies at the Charbonneau Commission.

Borsellino runs several construction companies, but the commission into corruption is concentrating on one in particular: Garnier Construction, that won many municipal contracts and is accused of offering bribes to city officials.

Borsellino said he was very close to former FTQ Construction general manager Jocelyn Dupuis, but on the stand Tuesday, appeared to forget most of them.

Former civil servants Gilles Surprenant and Luc Leclerc both testified in the past that they received huge bribes from Borsellino, and the man’s dealings with FTQ construction remain under investigation.

Sitting before the commission Borsellino has been talking in somewhat broken French, throwing in substantial amounts of English words.

He also told judges, in French, that he was having difficulty understanding questions in French.

However Borsellino's language skills were put into sharp relief when the wiretapped conversations were played at the inquiry, and they demonstrate Borsellino speaking flawless French and easily understanding Quebecois accents.

When informed of the wiretaps, Borsellino couldn't keep the dismay off his face.

The recordings heard Borsellino asking for a $40-million contract in Saguenay for an FTQ-sponsored project.

Borsellino reluctantly admitted he showered Dupuis with gifts, including letting him stay for months -- rent-free -- in a luxury condo he owned at 1000 de la Commune St.,where many alleged mobsters once lived. 

However Borsellino said that Dupuis never showed his companies any favouritism, or helped him win any contracts.

"No, no, to the best of my knowledge, no," said Borsellino when asked flat-out if Dupuis had helped him.

"We spoke often, but nothing specific," about projects, said Borsellino.

When asked if they were kickbacks, Borsellino said no, that was simply a victim of Dupuis's greed.

“He was close to me and maybe took advantage of the situation,” he said.

Borsellino also paid for a trip to Italy for a high-ranking city official.
The construction boss testified he did it to find out why city hall always seemed to give him a hard time.

“My relationship with the city wasn’t good,” he said.

Borsellino was also asked about the system of collusion that was in place for about 20 years, but again responded with vague and difficult to believe answers.

Evidence shows Garnier Construction was deeply involved in a Mafia-controlled price-fixing scheme at city hall. 

On the stand Tuesday, however, Borsellino said that during the 1980s, he was really the victim of mid-level engineer Gilles Surprenant during the 1980s.

"He said, ‘Maybe gather a few contractors and arrange a system,’” he said.

Justice France Charbonneau appeared incredulous throughout the testimony.

“So you’re telling me M. Surprenant was the big mastermind of all this when he was 30 years old? Is that what you’re saying,” she asked him.

“Yes,” he responded.

“But what about other companies involved in the collusion system? Maybe the Mafia was behind this?” she said.

“It could be the Mafia, I can't answer you,” he said.

Borsellino is expected to be followed on the stand by Nicolo Milioto, believed to be the intermediary between the Mafia and contractors. 

Sources said he's not expected to be any more cooperative than Borsellino.