Former Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay says he trusted his former right-hand man, Frank Zampino, whom he described as an "exceptional" member of the City of Montreal's executive committee.
Wearing a dark grey suit, Tremblay took the witness stand this morning at a trial in which Zampino is facing corruption-related charges.
The charges stem from an east-end real estate deal that paved the way for the Faubourg Contrecoeur housing development. Zampino is among nine people charged in connection with the deal.
Tremblay's testimony is a rare public appearance for the ex-mayor, who resigned in 2012 amid allegations he had turned a blind eye to corruption and electoral misspending by his Union Montréal party.
He told the court on Monday that Zampino was the one who was in charge of co-ordinating the various actors involved in the 2006-2007 Contrecoeur deal.
Big city players on trial
The trial, which was delayed several times, began hearing testimony last month and concerns a number of people involved in the deal.
In 2007, Montreal's Housing and Development Corporation (SHDM) sold land for a residential housing project to Construction Frank Catania & Associates Inc. for about $4 million — a fraction of its assessed value.
Zampino — who, along with serving in Tremblay's administration, was also mayor of Saint-Léonard — is accused of fixing the bidding process to favour the construction company.
He was arrested, along with nine others, in the spring of 2012 on charges of fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust.
Under cross-examination, Tremblay faced questions about the merger and privatization of the SHDM.
Tremblay defended the move, saying it was a good decision that ultimately saved the city millions of dollars.
Tremblay said that he did find it unacceptable that two volunteers from Union Montréal were on the selection committee tasked with overseeing the land sale.
The former mayor said their presence created the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Too close to fundraiser
On trial with Zampino is Paolo Catania, one of the province's biggest real-estate developers.
Both men were the subject of extensive testimony at the Charbonneau commission, which examined corruption in Quebec's construction industry and the illegal financing of political parties.
Bernard Trépanier, the chief fundraiser for Union Montréal, was also arrested in connection with the Contrecoeur deal. He is being tried separately.
On Monday, Tremblay said he considered Zampino an "exceptional" and trustworthy executive committee chair, noting Zampino also had the trust of his fellow councillors.
But he added that he did worry that Zampino was too close to Trépanier.
As to Paolo Catania, Tremblay said he didn't know him personally, but they had crossed paths at fundraisers.
When Tremblay stepped down as mayor in November 2012, he denied any direct knowledge of corruption within his administration, saying that "crooks" within his circle had betrayed his trust.