MONTREAL – As Quebec’s corruption inquiry awaits the highest-ranking elected official to testify so far, a longtime friend sought to minimize his role amid allegations of corruption and bid-rigging involving city contracts.
Frank Zampino, the No. 2 man in Montreal politics for several years, is due before the inquiry as soon as former fundraiser Bernard Trepanier finishes his testimony.
Trepanier, who has been nicknamed ”Mr. Three Per Cent” amid reports he took kickbacks, defended Zampino on Tuesday, saying the onetime right-hand man to former mayor Gerald Tremblay was never involved in the awarding of contracts.
Both Trepanier and Zampino are facing fraud charges in connection with a land deal in Montreal.
Zampino, the former head of the city’s powerful executive committee, has been described by an engineering boss as being the man behind collusion at the city.
During a feisty cross-examination, Trepanier dismissed the notion that Zampino was his real boss, adding that Tremblay was the man in charge of the Union Montreal party.
Trepanier’s defence of Zampino was so strong that he asked the lawyer representing the province’s roadbuilders if he had a grudge against the former city official.
Trepanier continued to paint himself as a scapegoat for engineering bosses trying to pin the blame on him for collusion.
Witnesses at the inquiry have described how companies inflated the cost of public projects and divided up the extra cash between the Mafia, corrupt bureaucrats and Union Montreal.
Several engineering bosses have testified in recent weeks they were part of a corrupt system whereby they donated to the party in return for lucrative city contracts.
Trepanier was alleged to be a key figure in that scheme — the man who collected money on behalf of the party from the firms.
He was Union Montreal’s chief fundraiser between 2004 and 2006, but continued to raise funds a few years after that.
The 74-year-old retiree maintains all he did for the party was sell tickets to fundraising events.
He has said he never collected any “cut” but has admitted to passing contract information to contractors who donated to the party.