Quebec probe hears of brass-knuckle beating

Company boss says cartel played rough

MONTREAL – A construction company boss told Quebec’s public inquiry that he received death threats, had his equipment torched, and his brother was beaten up with brass knuckles.

Why? Because he dared to compete for public-works contracts.

The president of Excavations Panthere, Andre Durocher, told the Charbonneau commission Tuesday that there was a price to pay for refusing to co-operate with one of the construction cartels operating in Quebec.

“There were drawbacks to not going along with the system of collusion,” he testified.

“Our equipment was burned, we got death threats, we had intimidation, assault, lots of things happened over the span of 20 years,” Durocher said.

Once, his brother was beaten up: “He was punched with brass knuckles and they broke three bones in his face. He was out of commission for a year.”

Another time, when he wanted to bid on sewage renovation work on Montreal’s Chabanel Street, he was forced to withdraw.

He said he kept getting calls on his office phone and cellphone, which he wouldn’t answer.

Eventually, he said four men in a black Cadillac show up at his office. Two came to hand him a piece of paper with a phone number on it. “You better call,” he recalled the men telling him.

Durocher says he didn’t listen.

Soon thereafter, he says, his insurance agent came to see him. He said the agent, Pierre Papineau of Comerco, told him: “Andre, we’re going to have our legs broken. You’re not bidding on Chabanel. I’m … cutting off the insurance on all your equipment if you submit a bid for Chabanel.”

Durocher did not, in the end, bid on the project.

He said he would receive up to 20 to 25 threatening or nuisance phone calls if he ever bid on a project where he wasn’t welcome.

Papineau, of Comerco, had testified earlier Tuesday that he indeed acted as a go-between for Durocher and another client who was inquiring about Durocher’s bid plans. But he did not offer the same account as Durocher, and did not describe relaying threats to him.

Durocher also told a very different story than one heard recently at the inquiry.

Disgraced construction boss Lino Zambito testified last month that Durocher actually tried to set up a cartel — one of several operating in different municipalities, in different construction sectors, around Montreal.

He said Durocher gathered 15 to 20 construction companies and attempted to set up a closed shop for sewage work north of Montreal.

The inquiry has heard that such cartels would take turns winning bids, conspire with crooked civil servants to inflate the price tag on projects, and turn over some of the profit to political parties and the Mafia.

Durocher said Tuesday that he never went along with such schemes.