MONTREAL – Former McGill hospital boss Arthur Porter is hitting back at Quebec’s corruption inquiry over how it portrayed the creation of Montreal’s superhospital.
Porter, the controversial former hospital administrator, took the Charbonneau Commission to task on Monday for its examination of the awarding of the $1.3-billion Montreal superhospital contract.
His criticism came in an interview published on a website run by the Porter family in support of the patriarch.
The lucrative contract, finalized in 2010, is the subject of alleged fraud of $22.5 million involving Porter and seven other people, including former SNC-Lavalin executives.
The ex-SNC-Lavalin executives are accused of funnelling money to former McGill hospital officials Porter and Yanai Elbaz in exchange for the contract, which the Montreal engineering giant obtained.
Porter, 57, faces charges that include fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud and breach of trust. He has denied any wrongdoing as he continues to fight extradition to Canada from a Panamanian prison.
He slammed the commission’s approach to tackling the hospital contract case. The inquiry, which has wrapped up studying the deal, heard from about 10 witnesses over the span of a week.
The commission is not a court. Its mandate is to look at possible corruption in the awarding of public contracts as well as ways to improve the overall process.
Porter told his biographer, Jeff Todd, that he’s puzzled by how the case was presented, particularly given the ongoing criminal proceedings.
“These Commission proceedings are surely making a mockery of a future court process,” Porter said.
“One-sided evidence is being presented, damning statements are being made and no effort to test the validity of the so-called evidence and statements has occurred. Even those selected to testify seem to have been carefully chosen.”
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He also took issue with a Quebec provincial police investigator who described the case as one of the largest corruption cases in Canadian history.
Porter called the comment “one of the most libellous statements I have ever heard.”
“There has been no legal process, no trial, no judgment, although perhaps these steps are now considered perfunctory,” Porter added. “I was not involved in any fraud, and therefore the statement is baseless.”
Porter wouldn’t comment on the awarding of the hospital contract except to say the provincial government appointed a “fairness” auditor who issued two reports finding the process was fair.
Porter also weighed in on questions about remuneration and allegations of improper expenses that arose from a series of articles in the Montreal Gazette.
“Various boards of directors approved the salaries and benefits that I negotiated,” Porter said. “These terms were not uncommon for CEOs running billion-dollar plus health-care institutions.”
He added that his perks were less at McGill than they were at a previous facility he operated.
Todd conducted the interview by phone last Friday. The transcript of his comments was published on a website entitled “Arthur Porter: Illegal in La Joya” – a reference to his prison.
“I think he just wanted to have his say,” Todd said in a telephone interview from Ottawa.
“There were a few things about the commission that bothered him and bothered his family as well and he’s obviously not present.”
Porter’s wife, Pamela, has also been charged in the case.
Others facing charges are former SNC-Lavalin senior executives Pierre Duhaime and Riadh Ben Aissa; Elbaz and his brother Yohann; and Jeremy Morris, the administrator of a Bahamas-based investment company, Sierra Asset Management.
The anti-corruption unit announced recently there is a warrant out for St-Clair Martin Armitage, a consultant hired by Porter to work on the hospital project.
Ben Aissa remains detained in Switzerland on separate charges of corruption, fraud and money-laundering in North Africa.
Authorities are trying to complete the extradition of both Ben Aissa and Porter to Quebec to face trial.
Porter was once appointed head of Canada’s spy watchdog agency by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
He claims to be in poor health but has written a book with Todd dubbed “The Man Behind the Bowtie,” due out in September.
Porter vows he’ll fight back against the accusations against him.
“And I will win,” he adds.
© The Canadian Press, 2014