LAVAL, Que. – A well-known Quebec construction mogul was involved in a kickback system so simple it is unbelievable it wasn’t discovered sooner, the Crown told the opening of his fraud and corruption trial Thursday.
Tony Accurso faces five charges: conspiracy to commit corruption in municipal affairs; conspiracy to commit fraud; fraud; corruption of municipal officials; and breach of trust.
Prosecutor Richard Rougeau told Accurso’s Quebec Superior Court jury trial he intends to demonstrate the accused participated for years in a “well-honed” system of bribery and collusion in the awarding of municipal contracts in Laval, north of Montreal.
Rougeau added it “was so simple” it was amazing it didn’t come to light more quickly.
Accurso, 65, is on trial for charges stemming from a corruption scheme that included former Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt.
In his opening statement, Rougeau described a practice in which high-ranking public servants in conjunction with Vaillancourt decided in advance which firms among a small group of entrepreneurs would obtain a contract.
The contractor was notified and competitors agreed to submit higher bids when a call for tenders was issued.
In exchange, the winning firm would give a kickback — in cash, in a brown envelope — to bagmen, sums that were “used to corrupt the municipal officials involved,” he said.
The kickbacks “were the price to pay to get contracts in a fraudulent manner,” Rougeau said.
The Crown said it intends to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Accurso and his companies, Simard-Beaudry Construction and Louisbourg Construction, were involved in this system.
He added he would demonstrate that Accurso and Vaillancourt held meetings where criminal acts occurred.
Quebec’s anti-corruption unit charged 37 people in 2013 for taking part in a collusion and corruption system surrounding the awarding of public contracts in Laval between 1996 and 2010.
Of those arrested, three have died, six had charges stayed because of an unreasonable delay in the case and 27 pleaded guilty, including Vaillancourt, who was sentenced to six years behind bars and ordered to repay $8 million.
The last remaining accused is Accurso, who pleaded not guilty and opted for a trial that is expected to last until the end of January.
The first witness to take the stand Thursday was Gilles Theberge, a former construction contractor.