News | Ex-engineer testifies at corruption probe

The Charbonneau Commission continued to send shockwaves through the Quebec political landscape as former city of Montreal engineer Gilles Surprenant testified yesterday that he had received around $706,000 in bribes from the Quebec construction industry.

According to Surprenant’s testimony, the highest-paying entrepreneurs were Construction Garnier owner Joe Borsellino and Lino Zambito, the former vice president of Infrabec. Zambito allegedly gave Surprenant around $66,000 in bribes.

Zambito said that the engineer earned the nicknamed “Mister TPS” for Tax pour Suprenant – a reference to the federal sales tax of the same name.

The Daily visited the Commission last Thursday for Surprenant’s first testimony. Surprenant said he was paid to overestimate the price of contracts between the city of Montreal and the construction sector. Most of the money he earned – approximately $250,000 – was subsequently lost at the casino.

“I started to go to a casino to spend the money,” he told the Commission in French. “It was my way of giving money back to the state.”

“I was very happy to give back the money,” he said. “It felt like a liberation.”

Suprenant claimed that his salary as an engineer was “sufficient,” and that he had no intention of spending the money on anything “extravagant.”

“My daughter wanted to be an esthetician, and I remember paying $3,000 for a course,” he said.

Some of the money, however, was used to renovate his house.

Surprenant began receiving bribes in 1991, but his ties to the industry ceased in 2009. On Wednesday, he told the Commission that he was not a “bad guy” and that he was simply “corrupt.”

“Everyone noticed a hike in the price [of contracts],” he said in French. “It was well-known. I would even say that the clerk at our office [was aware]. It was not my job as a mere government employee to call the police.”

So far, the Commission has incriminated dozens of construction firms in cases of corruption and collusion. Last month, the Commission revealed that around ten companies share contracts for the city of Montreal, and that the Mayor’s party, Union Montréal, earned money by awarding municipal contracts to colluding entrepreneurs.

Laval Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt announced on Wednesday that he was temporarily stepping down from office due to health reasons. Yesterday morning, officers from l’Unité permanente anticorruption, Quebec’s anti-corruption squad, seized two security lockers belonging to Vaillancourt. The police obtained a search warrant for his home earlier this month.

Surprenant is set to continue his testimony today.

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