UPAC has struck again, arresting politicians with ties to the Liberal party of Quebec and the Parti Quebecois, along with several engineering firm executives.

Chief among the accused is former deputy premier Nathalie Normandeau, along with her chief of staff Bruno Lortie.

Other former politicians under arrest are former Gaspé mayor Francois Roussy, and Ernest Murray, who was a political attaché in Pauline Marois's riding of Charlevoix. 

Marc-Yvan Coté, who was a Liberal cabinet minister in Robert Bourassa's government from 1989 to 1994 and later joined engineering firm Roche as a vice-president, was also snapped up.

Former Roche president and CEO Mario Martel, along with former VP France Michaud, round out the list.

UPAC is recommending charges of fraud, conspiracy, influence-peddling and breach of trust.  

Police said the alleged wrongdoing occurred between 2000 and 2012, but did not specificy any single project. There are reports the charges are tied to a water filtration plant built in Boisbriand.

UPAC chief Robert Lafreniere said the investigation took years because police and lawyers were being very careful.

He said that police were actually conducting two parallel operations before realizing the many connections between the suspects.

"It's a very complex investigation. It's a lot because we have to make a lot of analyses, and we have to work hand in hand with the prosecutors, the crown prosecutors," said Lafreniere.

He added that all seven suspects are due to appear in court on April 20.  

Normandeau and Lortie and Coté

The actions of Normandeau and her chief of staff, Lortie, were discussed at length during the Charbonneau inquiry into corruption in the construction industry.

People criticized Normandeau for accepting Celine Dion tickets and roses from construction company owner Lino Zambito.

Her chief of staff, Bruno Lortie, had close ties to Marc-Yvan Coté, working with the former cabinet minister for eight years before joining Normandeau's team.

He testified that he hating fundraising work and left it to others, but was berated for his apparent forgetfulness, with commissioner France Charbonneau calling him "a chief who suddenly forgets how to boil an egg."

Meanwhile Coté testified that Roche hired him specifically because of his ties to Lortie.

Two advisors said that Lortie was very pushy about getting certain projects approved, and noted that companies which made political contributions were more likely to have their projects approved.

Yvan Dumont and Michel Binette both said that Normandeau routinely used her discretionary powers as Municipal Affairs Minister to alter and approve projects, especially those taking place in Liberal ridings.

They added they received up to 50 calls each day from politicians inquiring about construction projects.

When she testified, Normandeau said that she exercised care in using her discretionary powers, doing so in fewer than five percent of contracts.

She told commissioners that she was worried about some of the allegations about Lortie, who was accused of favouring Roche in handing out contracts, going so far to say as that giving "inside information to Roche" was "reprehensible and inexcusable."

PQ pounces on the news

The Parti Quebecois did not bring up the matter in Question Period, but did hold a news conference later in the day saying the arrests show a clear link between corruption and Liberal Party financing.

Even though two people with links to the PQ were also arrested, Ernest Murray, a former advisor to Pauline Marois and Francois Roussy, a former PQ aide, the first opposition says that's different.

“Mr. Murray is not like Mme. Normandeau, Mr. Cote and all these people that were in the most important functions of the Liberal Party. They were at the government,” said PQ MNA Agnes Maltais.

Premier Philippe Couillard gave his reaction to the arrests before Thursday's announcement of the provincial budget.

"It's good to see that UPAC is totally independent, does its job and should contine doing its job," he said. "The tribunals will have the same work to do with total independence as well."

Couillard said he thinks the Quebec Liberal Party has changed since Normandeau's time as deputy premier, citing a reduction in the amount of donations individuals can make to provincial politicians and a new code of ethics.

Minister for Municipal Affairs Martin Coiteux stressed that UPAC's investigations are done independently of any political influence.

"What is very, very important is to remind everybody that nobody is above the law," he said. "UPAC has to do its work, and it is doing its work independently."

Prior charges

The names of many of the seven arrested Thursday are familiar because they've been questioned at length regarding corruption, whether by police officers, court lawyers, or Quebec's famous corruption inquiry. 

For several arrested today police procedures are well-known: they've already been charged and convicted before.France Michaud, the former Roche VP, was among those arrested in April 2011 as part of Operation Hammer investigating corruption in Boisbriand.

She was found guilty of fraud, corruption and breach of trust last year.

In 2014 Michaud testified before the Charbonneau Commission about how Roche raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for political parties, and how both the Liberal Party and the Parti Quebecois came to her for cash. 

Marc-Yvan Coté was a fundraiser for the Liberal Party of Canada until being banned for life by Prime Minister Paul Martin in the wake of the sponsorship scandal.

UPAC investigated Coté's Baie St. Paul home in 2013, and warrants showed that Coté was instrumental in drumming up government contracts for Roche. 

The allegations of political and fundraising wrongdoing cover both parties that have led Quebec for the past four decades. 

Ernest Murray told the Charbonneau Commission how he broke the law while fundraising for Pauline Marois, seeking $10,000 in illegal donations from Roche.