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Star witness’s credibility comes under attack in Charbonneau inquiry

A frame grab shows political organizer Martin Dumont testifying at the Charbonneau inquiry looking into corruption in the Quebec construction industry Monday, January 21, 2013 in Montreal.

Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Martin Dumont was a star at Quebec's corruption inquiry last fall, his unblinking testimony about cash-stuffed safes and crooked political financing seizing the public's imagination and helping push Montreal's mayor out of office.

But on Monday, the high-profile whistle-blower had the whistle blown on him. For an entire day, the commission probing malfeasance in Quebec probed one of the witnesses who testified about it instead. Lawyers aggressively poked holes in Mr. Dumont's testimony, at one point accusing him of fabricating stories outright.

"I suggest to you … that this entire story is false," deputy chief prosecutor Denis Gallant said to Mr. Dumont at a particularly testy point in his interrogation.

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Maintaining credibility is critical to the Charbonneau commission as it resumes its hearings into what has turned into an explosive exposé of corruption in the construction industry and links to party financing. Eager to maintain public trust, the commission raised the spectre of criminal charges; chairwoman France Charbonneau said Monday that if the commission catches people in a lie, it won't hesitate to report them to authorities.

The crux of the now discredited testimony by Mr. Dumont involved massive amounts of cash floating around former Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay's Union Montreal party headquarters.

A former party organizer, Mr. Dumont testified last October that a Union Montreal receptionist named Alexandra Pion complained to him in 2005 that she'd been asked to count a whopping $850,000 in cash at the behest of the party's fundraiser, Bernard Trépanier, also known as "Mr. Three Per Cent" for the cut he allegedly demanded from construction bosses for the party.

Ms. Pion came to testify herself ontestified Monday that she never told Mr. Dumont any such thing. Mr. Trépanier had asked her to sort out piles of $20 and $50 bills contained inside a suitcase, but she refused.

By the end of the day, Mr. Dumont's story had begun to unravel. In a private meeting with commission police investigators in December, a tape of which was shown at the commission on Monday, he admitted under oath that he had misled the commission about Ms. Pion.

"It [was] a falsehood on my part," he said.

Mr. Gallant found other inconsistencies in Mr. Dumont's testimony, though he did not revisit the statements that had the biggest impact: his claim that Mr. Tremblay was present when the party's official agent documented illegal spending through double bookkeeping. Mr. Tremblay vehemently denied the allegations but they appeared to cost him the support of the Parti Québécois government, which began to distance itself from the mayor. Six days after Mr. Dumont's bombshell, Mr. Tremblay resigned.

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Mr. Dumont didn't recant any of his other harmful testimony, which included details of how construction and engineering bosses made thousands of dollars in cash contributions to local politicians. After working in Montreal, Mr. Dumont moved to federal politics and the Harper government as a policy adviser. His bombshell testimony also earned him a measure of a celebrity status in Quebec, with appearances on the high-ratings talk show Tout le monde en parle.

Mr. Dumont isn't the first to be facing problematic testimony before the Charbonneau commission. Another witness, city of Montreal employee François Thériault, has been charged with perjury and obstruction of justice after testifying he did not get any financial benefit from his position.

Until Monday, the commission had heard 31 witnesses.

Justice Charbonneau also said that a third commissioner who has been absent from the public inquiry due to illness, McGill University law professor Roderick Macdonald, continues his work behind the scenes but will not be present for hearings, leaving Justice Charbonneau and Renaud Lachance to do the job.

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About the Author

Ingrid Peritz has been a Montreal-based correspondent for The Globe and Mail since 1998. Her reporting on the plight of Canadians suffering from the damaging effects of the drug thalidomide helped victims obtain federal compensation and earned The Globe and Mail a National Newspaper Award, Canadian Journalism Foundation award, and the Michener Award for public service. More

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