Former Quebec deputy premier Nathalie Normandeau and six other people involved in politics and government contracts have been arrested on 13 charges that include fraud on government, corruption and abuse of trust, the head of Quebec's permanent anti-corruption squad has confirmed.
The group of seven, which includes people associated with the provincial Liberals and the Parti Québécois, were arrested shortly after 6 a.m. on Thursday in Quebec City, Charlevoix and the Gaspésie, UPAC chief Robert Lafrenière said.
The arrests are the result of two long investigations, dubbed Joug and Lierre, he said.
Charbonneau Commission/ The Canadian Press
Marc-Yvan Cote, former Quebec transport minister, seen in a frame grab from the video feed at the Charbonneau inquiry, is said to be among those arrested Thursday.
Normandeau faces charges of conspiracy, corruption of public servants, frauds against the government and abuse of trust.
The conspiracy charge relates to actions between Jan. 1, 2000 and Dec. 31, 2012. The other charges relate to actions between Jan. 1, 2005 and Dec. 31, 2012.
Others arrested are: former Liberal cabinet minister Marc-Yvan Côté, Normandeau's former chief of staff, Bruno Lortie, Roche engineering employees Mario Martel and France Michaud, as well as Ernest Murray, a former political attaché to former Premier Pauline Marois and François Roussy, former mayor of the town of Gaspé.
The accused are to appear in court on April 20.
Paul Chiasson / Canadian Press
Former Quebec Liberal cabinet minister Nathalie Normandeau is pictured off a television monitor at the Charbonneau inquiry looking into corruption in the Quebec construction industry Wednesday, June 18, 2014
The province's anti-corruption squad said those arrested — at different times and in different ways — circumvented laws in order to obtain advantages such as gifts or political financing, or government subsidies and public contracts.
Reacting to the news of the arrests Thursday morning, Françoise David, the leader of opposition Québec Solidaire said this was a good day.
"We're happy today to see that the work done by UPAC, the Charbonneau Commission and even our member Amir Khadir is finally bearing fruit," David said. "Now, (Quebec Premier Philippe) Couillard has to assure that all the money the Liberal party got illicitly be reimbursed. That will be proof that the party has truly turned the page on this chapter."
She added that Couillard, Treasury Board chair Sam Hamad, and several other members of the current government were part of the cabinet with Normandeau and should have known there were problems.
Bruno Lortie, former cabinet chief for Nathalie Normandeau, testifies at the Charbonneau Commission Tuesday June 17, 2014 in Montreal.
"Either they were astonishingly blind, or they knew, but they closed their eyes," David said.
She added that Couillard must now assure all the recommendations of the Charbonneau Commission are followed, and give stronger teeth to whistleblower laws that allow public servants to signal wrongdoing.
Couillard reacted in Quebec city by saying: "Fortunately, we are in a totally different context from those days with the new rules for party financing."
"We no longer have to worry about these kind of questions," Couillard added.
A secretary for former Premier Jean Charest — who named Normandeau to her position — said Charest would not comment about the allegations.
UPAC had been investigating political financing of both the Liberal Party and the Parti Québécois. Earlier this week, UPAC laid 67 tax fraud charges against Roche Groupe and Pluritec, another engineering firm. Côté was also a vice-president at the Roche engineering firm.
France Michaud, who until last year was employed by Roche, confirmed that she liaised with Violette Trépanier of the Quebec Liberal Party and Ginette Boivin from the Parti Québécois to discuss party financing in the 2000s.
In June 2014 Normandeau appeared before the Charbonneau Commission into corruption. Her name had come up in previous testimony at the commission.
Among other things, the former Liberal MNA for Bonaventure is alleged to have used her ministerial powers to increase provincial subsidies on certain construction projects. Witnesses at the Charbonneau Commission also suggested she benefitted from illegal fundraising activities.
Normandeau, 47, was a radio host in Quebec City, but the station announced Thursday that she has been suspended without pay.
Police alleged Côté and Lortie committed fraud, conspiracy, influence peddling and infractions to the electoral law, according to applications for search warrants unsealed in 2014. The documents allege Côté was able to wield significant influence within the office of Normandeau, when she was minister of municipal affairs. He and Lortie, Normandeau's chief of staff, were close friends and considered themselves to be like family.
Police uncovered several emails in 2011 showing a system of false invoicing and illegal financing engaged by Roche, and that the company received privileged information, and was able to rig the tender process to its advantage.
In March 2008, a person, whose identity was redacted in the document, sent an email to Roche project manager Yves Gaillardetz, and Îles-de-la-Madeleine city councillor Jonathan Lapierre, saying that the call for tenders for a water filtration project would be put on hold until after the three of them could meet for Roche to get privileged information about the project.