Jean Charest’s lawyer says the former Liberal premier is innocent of any wrongdoing when it comes to political financing — and it is high time for Quebec’s anti-corruption squad to end a six-year investigation that has not led to charges against Charest’s friend, Marc Bibeau, or anyone else.
Michel Massicotte told Radio-Canada that aside from the fact his client is a friend of Bibeau’s — something Charest has never disavowed — nothing in newly released documents pertaining to that UPAC investigation call into question Charest’s integrity.
Massicotte’s comments come a day after the Supreme Court refused to hear a request for a publication ban filed by lawyers for Bibeau, a one-time top fundraiser for the Quebec Liberal Party.
As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, a trove of information from the investigation, known as Operation Mâchurer, is now public. The documents include general warrants and witness statements, and they detail why, in 2016, UPAC wanted to conduct secret searches of the offices of companies owned by Bibeau.
Mulling Conservative leadership bid
The revelations come just as Charest is mulling over making a bid to lead the Conservative Party of Canada, and the former premier wants to clear the air.
“We discussed it, and given what’s been out there in the public sphere — not just yesterday, but for a very long time — it looked to us to be necessary to address this issue,” Massicotte told Radio-Canada’s Isabelle Richer in an interview Friday.
Even though Charest was head of the Liberal party, he had nothing to do with Bibeau’s fundraising practices, Massicotte said.
Massicotte said if some companies contributed illegally to election funds, Charest was not aware of it.
“To support a practice, you have to be aware that practice exists,” said Massicotte.
He said Charest knew Bibeau was involved in the PLQ’s so-called “sectoral funding” — a term used to describe soliciting companies to ask staff to make political contributions.
Massicotte conceded that it’s been demonstrated companies did, in fact, contribute illegally to the Liberal Party’s electoral coffers — but he maintained that had nothing to do with how sectoral funding actually worked.
“It wasn’t up to the firm to give money, it was up to each person individually,” he explained. “There was no twisting of arms, either.”
In any event, even if businesses did make illegal political contributions to the PLQ, “Mr. Charest knew nothing about it,” he said.
Frustrated police leaked information, Massicotte charges
Operation Mâchurer’s goal was to establish a link between illegal political financing and the awarding of public contracts by Charest’s Liberal government.
“We have always said, to whoever wanted to hear it, that we are innocent as far as any of this goes,” Massicotte said.
He pointed out that Charest has already explained all this, in great detail, in a 300-page declaration to lawyers for the Charbonneau commission, who interviewed him in 2014.
The former premier also spoke to UPAC investigators on two separate occasions, before Operation Mâchurer was even launched, more than five years ago.
Operation Mâchurer has found nothing new, he said.
“Stop this investigation,” he said. “Stop saying we are hiding something, or whatever. We have offered our full co-operation, but this co-operation does not seem to have been reciprocated.”
Massicotte said he believes investigators leaked the now-public documents out of frustration, in an effort to create a “trial by media” scenario because there is no evidence of any crime.
No sympathy from political adversaries
However, opposition parties are not ready to let Charest off the hook.
“If Operation Mâchurer is not over, it’s because Mr. Charest’s friend dragged the proceedings all the way to the Supreme Court,” said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the co-spokesperson for Québec Solidaire, in a news release, accusing the former provincial Liberal leader of showing contempt for the public.
“Now that Mr. Charest wants to run for the Conservative Party leadership, he’s complaining about how long it’s taking and he wants it to stop?”
“The Charbonneau commission exposed the illegal financing schemes of the Liberals during the Charest era. He is the prime suspect in this case, ” said Nadeau-Dubois.
“Just because Jean Charest’s lawyer asks that an investigation be stopped does not mean we should listen to him,” said the acting head of the Parti Québécois, Pascal Bérubé.
He said there are still many unanswered questions.
“Several individuals and companies claimed that they had been asked for large amounts of money,” Bérubé said. “Who asked them for money, and for whose benefit? That’s the most important question.”
UPAC said it had no comment on Massicotte’s remarks at this time.