Provincial police are expanding an investigation into alleged influence peddling by two senior Liberal politicians, including one of who is still serving in the National Assembly.
The Sureté du Québec announced Monday that it is reinforcing the team investigating allegations that MNA and Liberal house leader Jean-Marc Fournier and former Quebec finance minister Raymond Bachand met with a property developer to discuss a contribution to the Liberal party in exchange for political favours.
In a statement Monday, the SQ said the move comes in response to “information published today,” which is believed to refer to stories published by French-language news outlets TVA and Le Journal de Montréal that named the two politicians.
Last April, the head of the Montreal police brotherhood, Yves Francoeur, told a Quebec radio station numerous sources had told him that two members of the Liberal Party of Quebec, one still in office, were investigated for fraud and influence peddling.
Francoeur said charges should have been laid, but weren’t, because the people involved were Liberal elected officials.
Francoeur did not name the two men at the time, but does so in an eight-page statement to the SQ that was obtained by TVA and Le Journal de Montréal.
In the statement, Francoeur says four sources told him that Fournier and Bachand met with a developer to discuss a donation to the Liberals in return for development rights and / or the rezoning of lands.
High-ranking SQ officer stopped investigation, Francoeur says
Francoeur maintains that a police investigation took place, but says he was told by a source that a high-ranking SQ officer stopped the investigation.
The SQ opened its investigation in May at the request of both the Liberal government and the Crown prosecutor’s office.
On Monday, provincial police said its investigating team will now be supported by officers from the RCMP and from the police departments of Quebec City, Longueuil and Gatineau.
The team is being co-supervised by SQ deputy director Yves Morency and Madeleine Giauque, head of Quebec’s independent investigations bureau.
The Parti Québecois responded to the naming of Fournier by calling on Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard to suspend him until the matter is clarified.
In an interview Monday with Radio-Canada, Fournier said he attended a party finance meeting at the location alleged by Francoeur, but denied the rest.
“At that meeting … there was never any intervention or conversation about an exchange [of political favours] for a donation to the party,” he said. “That never happened.”
He said he did speak with a developer who was having difficulty getting approval for a project on the Boucherville islands, but there was never any talk of helping him in exchange for a donation.
Despite denying any wrongdoing, Fournier said he’s weighing his options.
“My first reflex is not to step aside,” he said. “On the other hand, I am a leader and I have to protect the government.”
He said he was eager to speak with investigators to provide his side of the story.
Béchard attended meeting, not Bachand, Fournier says
Fournier also told Radio-Canada it was former natural resources minister Claude Béchard who attended the meeting with him, not Bachand.
That assertion was repeated by Bachand, who is currently representing Quebec in talks to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“How can you defend yourself against something that didn’t happen,” Bachand said. “Mr. Francoeur has made a false allegation. Maybe he was misinformed, but the least he can do is apologize.”
Couillard said Monday from New York City that the allegations should be taken “with a grain of salt.”
“I have confidence in Mr. Fournier,” he said.
As to Bachand’s alleged involvement, Couillard called that report a “major factual error.”