A witness who exposed the depth of corruption in Quebec's construction industry broke into tears and asked for forgiveness as he concluded his testimony on how he bribed his way to increasing business for his engineering firm.
Michel Lalonde, an engineer who has been testifying for days under a publication ban at Quebec's corruption inquiry, emerged into public view briefly Thursday to deliver an apology for having bribed provincial and city officials and for having paid hundreds of thousands of illegal donations to municipal and provincial political parties.
"At the time, I thought I was doing what was necessary to bring in work for my business and my employees," Mr. Lalonde said, thanking his wife, parents and four children for their support.
"I understand the result of these acts, and I hope to one day be forgiven."
For days, Mr. Lalonde, the head of Génius Conseil engineering, formerly known as Groupe Séguin, has given detailed explanations of his dealings on some major construction projects in the Montreal region, which are now the subject of criminal trials. The testimony has been under a publication ban.
In his prior, public testimony, Mr. Lalonde offered a grim picture of a vast system where political donations were the key to entry on municipal projects, or understood to be the reward for parties at the provincial level, including both the Quebec Liberals and the Parti Québécois. A long list of officials also pocketed cash, he said.
Justice France Charbonneau, the head of the inquiry, commended Mr. Lalonde for his candour and courage.
However, Mr. Lalonde's testimony was laced with euphemisms he used to describe money his company skimmed from contracts and used to pay off officials. He spoke of "accommodating," "compensating," and "fulfilling" the corrupt officials he paid.
At one point this week, Martin St-Jean, the city of Montreal's lawyer, challenged Mr. Lalonde, saying: "What you're really talking about is being an accomplice to the theft of public funds."
Mr. Lalonde hesitated a moment before finally making the admission: "Yes, absolutely."
The inquiry was set to spend the rest of Thursday under a publication ban. It resumes Monday.