Quebec construction insiders allege kickbacks

Cash-for-contract schemes and political fundraising are common practice in Quebec's construction sector, according to new allegations from two industry insiders.

In exclusive interviews with Radio-Canada's investigative program Enquête, the men allege kickbacks, gifts and fake invoices were tools of the trade for engineering firms looking to land public contracts.

According to Lino Zambito, firms doing business in Quebec's construction industry are under pressure to raise money for political parties as part of the cost of doing business.

"Engineering firms are the ones closest to power," he said in a French interview with Enquête. "They approach you to see if you can help them meet their obligations to political parties."

Zambito, vice-president of construction companyInfrabec, agreed to speak to Enquête while he awaits trial on numerous charges in connection with the awarding of a municipal contract for a $28-million water purification plant in Boisbriand.

Zambito alleges that he participated in fundraising events for Nathalie Normandeau, Quebec's former municipal affairs minister, which he said netted hundreds of thousands of dollars for the provincial Liberal Party.

Enquête's investigation obtained police documents that reveal Normandeau approved $11 million in subsidies for the water purification plant, against bureaucrats' advice.

"It happened occasionally that I approved projects that didn't meet specific criteria. I demonstrated the greatest flexibility and creativity possible. As minister, I stand by what I did," Normandeau told Enquête during a French phone interview.

She said she never had any special ties to Zambito, and at no time did he ever influence her work as minister.

Zambito was arrested in February 2011 by Operation Hammer, Quebec's specialized anti-corruption squad.

Ex-Roche employee alleges aliases

Another construction industry insider — Gilles Cloutier — said he regularly sent gifts to elected politicians, and handed out large amounts of cash to municipal political parties in order to get preferential treatment during contract tenders.

Cloutier, who once ran business development for construction and engineering firm Roche, said he gave $25,000 in cash to a political organizer for Boisbriand's mayor during the bidding process for the water plant. Roche obtained the contract.

Cloutier also alleges that Roche employees were used as aliases for illegal political contributions to the Quebec Liberal Party and the Parti Québécois. Police obtained documents from Roche's headquarters suggesting that donations were made under employee names.

Roche refused to answer any questions, while a spokesperson for Roche said the company hopes the upcoming Charbonneau Commission can shed light about these allegations.

Superior Court Justice France Charbonneau is leading the provincial commission mandated to examine how public construction contracts are handed out in Quebec.

Hearings are scheduled to start later this spring.

With files from Marie-Maude Denis