Quebec inquiry star witness admitted earlier testimony was false

A star witness whose damning testimony has come under question in recent weeks admitted in interview tapes aired in front of Quebec's inquiry into corruption in the construction industry that some of his earlier testimony wasn't true.

In October, former Union Montréal party organizer Martin Dumont told the inquiry that a former receptionist for the party, Alexandra Pion, took him aside and complained that she no longer wanted to be asked to count money for Bernard Trépanier.

But on Monday, the commission aired video shot in early December that showed Dumont admitting to investigators that it was actually Trépanier who told him about counting the money and that he shouldn't have named Pion.

In the same round of testimony, Dumont told the commission that Pion told him she had counted approximately $850,000 with Trépanier— the partisan fundraising official (dubbed "Mr. Three Per Cent"), who is accused of collecting kickbacks from construction companies on behalf of Union Montréal.

During his October appearance, Dumont also said former Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay turned a blind eye when presented with two sets of financial records for a 2004 byelection campaign in the St-Laurent borough. Tremblay quit political life within days of that testimony, vehemently denying Dumont's version of the facts.

Speaking before the commission Monday, Pion said she was asked to count cash on one occasion but that she had no idea how much money it was and that she never spoke to Dumont about the incident.

In her testimony, Pion described one occasion where she was led to an office, where an open safe revealed the bills, tied together with elastic bands.

Pion confirmed that Trépanier asked her to count the $20 and $50 bills but she says she refused to do so.

Pion recounted telling Trépanier it was not her role to count the money, and told the commission she turned around to leave at that point and faced no resistance from Trépanier.

She said she didn't remember the date of the alleged incident but said it only occurred one time.

Following Dion's testimony, Dumont was asked to clarify who told him about the incident. He said someone told him about the $850,000, but he said he shouldn't have named Pion.

"To my memory, I thought it was Pion. But to be very honest with you, doubt has been installed in my mind," said Dumont.

Commission head, France Charbonneau, ordered Dumont to return to testify again despite a plea for postponement.

His lawyer had sought leave to postpone her client's appearance to a later date.

Suzanne Gagné said Dumont has been on sick leave from his current job in the pharmaceutical industry since the start of the year. She had said he wouldn't be well enough to testify until at least the end of February.

Charbonneau said the medical information presented by Gagné did not specify a condition that would prevent him from testifying.

Charbonneau announced that one of her two co-commissioners, Roderick A. Macdonald, will not sit for the winter session because of his poor health.

The commission has faced criticism due to Macdonald's prolonged absence. Macdonald underwent cancer-related surgery in mid-May and has yet to attend any of the hearings in person, though he has apparently been following the proceedings from home.

Charbonneau said Macdonald will turn his focus instead to identifying recommendations for the government, which is part of the commission's mandate.

Chief counsel Sonia Lebel introduced three new lawyers who will work for the commission — Erika Porter, Paul Crépeau and Lussiaà-Berdou Cainnech — hired in the wake of the departure of Sylvain Lussier and Claude Chartrand.

In October, chief counsel Lussier announced he would resign because of the potential appearance of a conflict of interest. He had represented a company named at the inquiry.

Chartrand, the deputy chief counsel, left soon after, saying his talents were not being used properly after being passed up for the chief prosecutor job.

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