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MUHC deserves the millions in criminal’s bank account: lawyer – Montreal

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Montreal’s English-language superhospital was the victim of the greatest corruption fraud in Canadian history, and one of the key players shouldn’t benefit from the millions of dollars he has in the bank, the lawyer for the health centre said Wednesday.

Alexander De Zordo, lawyer for the McGill University Health Centre, asked Superior Court Justice Claude Leblond to award the $6-million frozen in Yanai Elbaz’s bank account to the hospital to cover a portion of its losses.

READ MORE: Former MUHC manager pleads guilty in SNC-Lavalin bribery case

Elbaz pleaded guilty Monday to accepting a $10-million bribe in return for helping engineering firm SNC-Lavalin win the contract to build what was to be a jewel of the anglophone community.

The Crown and defence made a joint suggestion to Leblond that Elbaz serve 39 months in prison, but they did not agree on whether he should pay compensation.

READ MORE: Anti-corruption police nab Montreal hospital contract fraud suspect at airport

Before ruling on a sentence, Leblond must decide whether the hospital’s losses are easily quantifiable or whether a civil trial is needed to sort it all out — a process that could take years and more public money to settle.

The massive hospital complex is operating in west-end Montreal, but its construction became a symbol of the corruption that plagued Quebec’s construction industry.

‘The biggest corruption fraud in Canadian history’

De Zordo filed in court transcripts from Quebec’s Charbonneau inquiry into corruption, in which an investigator discussed the probe into the MUHC.

Officer Jean-Frederick Gagnon told the inquiry in 2014 that operation Laureat was an investigation into “the biggest corruption fraud in Canadian history.”

In an agreed statement of facts tied to Elbaz’s plea, the former MUHC manager admitted to giving privileged information to SNC-Lavalin to help its submission for the contract. Elbaz also admitted to denigrating SNC’s competitors in front of the hospital’s selection committee.

WATCH BELOW: Arthur Porter died in a Panamanian jail


Elbaz and Arthur Porter, the ex-CEO of the MUHC who died a fugitive in Panamanian custody in 2015, received a total of $22.5 million to rig the bidding process to favour SNC-Lavalin, the statement of facts said.

Porter created a shell company that received the $22.5 million from the engineering firm. Elbaz then created his own shell company and received his share of the cash.

Elbaz admitted that all the money in the shell companies was proceeds of crime.

READ MORE: Charges officially dropped against Arthur Porter, two years after his death

Police raided the MUHC’s offices in September 2012. The following February, Quebec’s anti-corruption unit issued warrants for the arrests of Elbaz, Porter, SNC-Lavalin’s former CEO Pierre Duhaime and former SNC-Lavalin executive Riadh Ben Aissa.

Elbaz’s brother, Yohann, and Porter’s wife, Pamela, were later arrested.

Porter died in Panamanian custody in 2015 after his wife pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 33 months on two counts of laundering the proceeds of crime. She was released in June 2015.

Ben Aissa pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of using false documents and was sentenced in July to 51 months in prison.

READ MORE: New $11M investment inspiring cutting-edge research at MUHC

Yohann Elbaz was acquitted Monday. Duhaime awaits trial.

De Zordo said in court Wednesday that while the contract to build the hospital complex was $1.3 billion, it actually totalled close to $4.6 billion when costs of managing the public-private partnership were factored in.

He suggested the MUHC contract was inflated by up 20 per cent, meaning the health care centre is owed as much as $934 million.

READ MORE: McGill research offers hope for curing rare genetic disease affecting Quebec children

Acknowledging that seeking that much from Elbaz is unrealistic, he suggested the hospital should receive at least what is in the frozen bank account.

“(Elbaz) was paid handsomely to oversee a fair and equitable process — but it was rigged,” said De Zordo. “He received $10 million and the (McGill health centre) is asking for some sense of restitution.

“It’s virtually impossible that the MUHC as victim has suffered no prejudice.”

Leblond said, however, that just because Elbaz admitted to taking money, it doesn’t mean the hospital automatically suffered any damages.

“The amount you need to quantify is the prejudice (the MUHC) suffered,” Leblond said. “Not the $10 million.”

Elbaz’s lawyer, Nadine Touma, said her client contests De Zordo’s damages claim.

The case returns to court Dec. 17. Elbaz has been detained since pleading guilty Monday.

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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