MONTREAL, Que. — A corrupt cartel that controlled Montreal’s construction industry was not set up by the Mafia, or by company bosses, but by a mid-level municipal functionary, according to testimony heard Tuesday.
That account, provided by a construction boss at Quebec’s corruption inquiry, marked a dramatic departure from previous testimony heard in recent months.
Earlier testimony had suggested that city officials simply drew financial benefit by co-operating with the bid-rigging system in public procurement.
But, to hear Joe Borsellino tell it, a bureaucrat was the one pulling the strings.
The Garnier Construction boss said it was city engineer Gilles Surprenant — who has since earned the nickname “Mr. GST” — who masterminded the collusion.
Borsellino said he had heard rumours about collusion in the Montreal construction industry since the 1980s, but he said his first experience with the system came in an encounter with Surprenant.
He said that as his company became active in public bids, Surprenant urged him to partner up in schemes with other companies.
Borsellino said nothing came of that first conversation. But he said Surprenant convened another meeting in the mid-1990s and said to three construction bosses, “Guys, work together.”
Borsellino explained why construction companies might be vulnerable to such pressure. He said contractors face financial disaster when a job goes wrong, and the early 1990s were especially tough.
“We suffer. We suffer because we don’t get paid,” he said. Municipal decision-makers have considerable power to delay or hinder a project, he said.
“When the key man (in the city) calls and says, ‘Come and see me, I can solve your problem,’ (we go).”
The inquiry has previously heard that, for many years, a cabal of construction companies conspired to inflate the price of construction projects in Quebec, and split the profits with political parties, friendly civil servants and the Mafia.View Original Article