Jacques Corriveau arriving at the Gomery Commission
Credits: QMI AGENCY
MONTREAL -- The RCMP has charged a one-time friend of former prime minister Jean Chretien with fraud and money laundering in the federal sponsorship scandal.
The Mounties allege Jacques Corriveau, 80, received kickbacks from the now-defunct national-unity fund that was a vehicle for bribes and fraud from 1996 to 2002.
The scandal helped to bring down the Liberal government and pave the way for Stephen Harper's Conservatives to take power in 2006.
Media investigations and a 2002 auditor's report shed light on a cabal of Liberal-linked ad firms that received the lion's share of sponsorship contracts.
Corriveau, a high-ranking Liberal organizer, later emerged as a key figure in the scheme, according to evidence presented at the Gomery inquiry in 2005.
The RCMP said Friday that Corriveau "set up a kickback system on the contracts that were awarded in the sponsorship program."
"Mr. Corriveau allegedly claimed that he could exercise influence on the federal government to facilitate the awarding of contracts to certain Quebec-based communication firms in return for several million dollars' worth of advantages and/or benefits for himself and other persons."
The RCMP said Friday that sponsorship contracts were steered towards the Groupe Polygone firm to produce magazines at a series of hunting and fishing shows.
Millions of dollars were then paid to Corriveau's graphic design firm, Pluri Design.
The RCMP also mentioned that Corriveau had contacts with another firm, Groupaction.
Groupation owner Jean Brault told the Gomery inquiry that Corriveau and other Liberal operatives strong-armed him into funnelling more than $1 million to the Liberal Party of Canada in exchange for $60 million in sponsorship contacts.
Corriveau has always denied any wrongdoing.
Jean Chretien set up the sponsorship program following the No side's narrow win in the 1995 Quebec sovereignty referendum.
The program saw the Canadian flag prominently displayed at a variety of events, mainly in Quebec.
But the inquiry found that bureaucrats paid out more than $100 million to Liberal-connected firms for little or no work.
Jean Brault was eventually charged, along with former bureaucrat Chuck Guite and ad executives Jean Lafleur, Paul Coffin and Jacques Paradis.
Chretien testified at the inquiry but was not directly implicated in wrongdoing.
One of Chretien's former cabinet ministers, Alfonso Gagliano, was named at the inquiry as the alleged mastermind of the scheme, and Chretien's successor, Paul Martin, fired him from a diplomatic post.
Corriveau is scheduled to appear in court Jan. 10.