Quebec's con-struction inquiry witnessed its first political bombshells Monday with a star witness testifying about corruption so deep, so systemic, that kickbacks to the Montreal mayor's political party and payments to the Italian Mafia were handled by the same person.
A former construction boss testified that doing business meant a three per cent kickback from the value of municipal contracts to the mayor's party; a one per cent bribe to a city employee; more gifts and payments to other city officials; 2.5 per cent to the Italian Mob; and a meeting with the country's most powerful mafioso when a dispute occurred over bidrigging.
It was the first time the inquiry heard about specific bribes to a political party. It might not be the last. Witnesses have yet to be asked about political activities at the provincial or federal level.
On his second day of incendiary testimony, former construction boss Lino Zambito said pilfering the public purse was part of the game and seemingly everyone was in on the scam.
"I found it ridiculous how everyone knew about it - and how it continued," Zambito said.
"People knew about it at the city. The business people knew about it. The suppliers knew it ... business as usual. ... There was wilful blindness. It was accepted."
Zambito said he learned about the partisan kickback from Nicolo Milioto - the same man seen on police surveillance video handing the Rizzutos cash from con-struction profits. Milioto started collecting on behalf of the political world as well in 2005, Zambito said.
The allegations at the inquiry Monday prompted municipal politicians to demand the immediate resignation of the mayor, who still has a year left in his term. Mayor GÃ©rald Tremblay defended himself and showed no sign Monday of planning to step aside.
Zambito testified that for years he paid a three per cent cut from all the contracts his firm received from the City of Montreal to Tremblay's party.
He described a system in which the 2.5 per cent he gave to the Mafia on each contract, which he testified about last week, was merely the tip of an iceberg of corruption that drove up the cost of construction work in Montreal.
Tremblay said his party's books were scrutinized each year by the province's elections watchdog and "we never had a complaint." If there's a problem, Tremblay said, that same body should investigate.
Aside from that, Tremblay said he would await the conclusion of the inquiry.