What? Another corruption trial that ends up in the wall? And not because a judge ruled on the merits of the charges, but because of unreasonable delays?
It becomes a habit. The case of Nathalie Normandeau recalls the repeated setbacks of the Permanent Anti-Corruption Unit (UPAC) and our justice system, widely documented by our Investigation Office and by our journalists who cover the legal scene:
- In September 2015, all charges were withdrawn against the former mayor of Saint-Constant Gilles Pépin, who had been accused of fraud and breach of trust two years earlier. The evidence collected by UPAC no longer held, because the credibility of an important witness had collapsed.
- In February 2018, the contractor Tony Accurso was acquitted, he who was suspected of having written a check for $ 300,000 to the former mayor of Mascouche Richard Marcotte in return for municipal contracts. The judge ruled that the money had been paid out of friendship rather than to bribe the former mayor.
- In May 2018, the former number two of the City of Montreal Frank Zampino and the entrepreneur Paolo Catania were acquitted in the scandal of the Faubourg Contrecœur. The Crown alleged a ploy to lower the value of contaminated land that would have cost taxpayers millions of dollars, but the judge instead ruled that the evidence was based on “possibilities” and “impressions” rather than hard facts.
Again the PLQ
- In May 2019, our Bureau of Investigation revealed that the Contour project, an investigation carried out over 5 years by UPAC into the involvement of the mafia in the sharing of contracts with the City of Montreal, had failed. Mafiosi captured on camera hiding wads of cash in their stockings at the Café Consenza would never be accused. Sources blamed the DPCP's unwillingness.
- In September 2019, Frank Zampino (again!) Escaped serious charges of fraud in municipal contracts totaling $ 160 million, because conversations with his lawyer were unduly spied on during the investigation against him.
- In November 2019, UPAC announced that it was putting an end to the Justesse project, which targeted fundraisers of the Liberal Party of Quebec (PLQ) in a case of alleged real estate fraud. According to information from our Bureau of Investigation, UPAC feared that searches of suspects' computer equipment, carried out several years earlier, would be contested after charges had been laid.
- Last June, another investigation targeting the entourage of the PLQ, called Modesty, ended in a fishtail. For 7 years, UPAC suspected the former liberal financier Marc Bibeau of having been involved in a case of the diversion of materials intended for a public contract. A judge had even found the statements of investigators sufficiently credible to authorize several search warrants, but no explanation was provided for the closure of the file.
- I will not elaborate on the setbacks of the Mâchurer investigation, officially still active, which has been looking into allegations of illegal financing at the PLQ since 2014. Last January, Michel Massicotte, the lawyer for ex-Prime Minister Jean Charest, even publicly put pressure on UPAC. He aired on public television that the farce had gone on long enough and that the investigation had to stop “because there is no proof”. It must be said that the police were slowed down for 3 years because Marc Bibeau challenged the validity of search warrants up to the Supreme Court.
Not a success
Even when we freak out because the former mayor of Laval Gilles Vaillancourt was sent to prison for a year for corruption, we forget that 7 of his 36 co-defendants have avoided a trial because of unreasonable judicial delays. Three of the alleged accomplices even had time to die before being tried.
There is no common denominator in this series of failures and failed trials. Sometimes these are botched UPAC investigations. Sometimes it is the Crown that lacks ambition. Sometimes it is the endless bureaucracy and the delays of the justice system. Sometimes, too, they are brilliant defense lawyers who successfully deploy a wealth of imagination to get their clients acquitted.
But one thing is certain: 10 years after Quebec society decided that it was necessary to fight corruption once and for all, we really cannot conclude that this vast enterprise is a success.