Former Liberal fundraiser calling key Charbonneau witness in fraud trial

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Lino Zambito, the star witness at Quebec’s Charbonneau Commission into construction corruption, to testify at the trial of former Quebec Liberal politicians.

Lawyer Oliver Desjardins, representing Marc-Yvan Côté — a former health minister and fundraiser for the federal and Quebec Liberal parties — is calling Zambito because he has alleged a former prosecutor was involved in leaking information about Côté to the media.

Desjardins said Zambito — who sent former Liberal deputy premier Nathalie Normandeau 40 roses on her 40th birthday and gave her about a dozen VIP tickets to a Madonna concert in Montreal’s Bell Centre — is under police protection and it would take “two or three days” to summon him for his court appearance.

Desjardins also cast doubt in court on the credibility of his own witness, noting the prosecutor has denied Zambito’s version of events.

“Did Mr. Zambito make a mistake? Did Mr. Zambito lie?” Desjardins said in court.

Zambito, who pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and corruption, is to testify next Monday afternoon.

Desjardins also served notice this Monday he will challenge the constitutionality of Bill S-231, a federal law adopted in October to protect reporters’ sources.

Desjardins is calling on the judge hearing preliminary arguments in the trial of Côté to throw the case out because leaks about him to journalists harmed his right to a fair trial.

After his political career ended, Côté was an executive of Groupe Roche, a Quebec City engineering firm. Côté was expelled for life from the federal Liberal party after admitting in 2005 in testimony before the Gomery Commission on the so-called ‘adscam’ scandal that he accepted $120,000 in cash from ad firms granted federal contracts. The money was used to finance federal Liberal election campaigns.

Along with Côté, Normandeau, former Groupe Roche president Mario Martel, former Groupe Roche vice-president France Michaud and Bruno Lortie — who was Normandeau’s chief of staff — all face charges alleging that donors to the Quebec Liberal party were compensated with government subsidies.

Former Gaspé mayor François Roussy, who as Parti Québécois ties, is also charged.

In another twist in this case, the name of Guy Ouellette, a Liberal member of the Quebec National Assembly, arrested in October and not charged, came up in court today.

Ouellette was arrested as part of an investigation by UPAC, Quebec’s permanent anti-corruption unit.

Judge André Perreault agreed to a Crown request for a closed hearing, with only lawyers representing the Direction des poursuites criminelles et pénales — Quebec’s public prosecutor — permitted to examine unredacted documents naming a police informant in the Ouellette case.

Perreault asked everyone to leave the courtroom for 15 minutes while he heard the DPCP evidence, including the name of the informant. The closed hearing lasted an hour and a half.

Perreault then informed the Crown and defence lawyers that he would not permit any questions that could lead to the identification of the police informant.

“It’s my job to protect him,” Perreault said.

Lawyer Sébastien Pierre-Roy, representing media enterprises Radio Canada, Le Devoir and La Presse, told reporters that the DPCP is willing to release redacted versions of its documents to show that “it was diligent in trying to find the sources of leaks to journalists and to stop them.”

“But they cannot release these documents (unredacted) because they are related to the investigation related to the arrest of Marc-Yvan Côté,” Pierre-Roy said.

As well, the Quebec National Assembly was represented at the hearing because it has intervened to invoke parliamentary privilege to prevent a release of the documents, he added, invoking parliamentary privilege protection for Ouellette.
Desjardins also announced he will call as witnesses two high-profile Quebec journalists who received leaked information about Côté.

Marie Maude Denis — host of Radio Canada’s investigative program Enquête — and Louis Lacroix, former president of the Quebec National Assembly Press Gallery — who wrote a piece based on leaked information in l’Actualité magazine — are to appear next Tuesday.

Read the full story over at iPolitics.

This story was summarized by Canadian Fraud News Inc.