Only a few weeks ago a smiling André Bissonnette shared a stage with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney during a Canada Day celebration in Valleyfield, Que., not far from Bissonnette’s home riding of StJean. The scandal that led to the Conservative MP’s firing from cabinet last January seemed distant then, but last week the damaging details of the socalled Oerlikon affair once again came under public scrutiny. Bissonnette and the former president of his riding association, Normand Ouellette, were formally charged with corruption, fraud and bribery. The charges related to land transactions last year that tripled the price of a parcel of St-Jean farmland before it was sold to a company bidding on government defence work. But, said Bissonnette in a statement, “I am accused; I am not guilty.” Mulroney fired Bissonnette from his post as minister of state for transport on Jan. 18, a day after the Montreal Gazette published details of real estate flips that increased the price of a 100acre St-Jean site from $800,000 to nearly $3 million in 11 days. The land was subsequently purchased by Oerlikon Aerospace Inc., the Swiss-based firm that in June, 1986, won a contract to build a Canadian low-level air defence system on the site. Mulroney ordered an RCMP investigation into the land deal, and Oerlikon filed a $2.1million lawsuit to recover some of its money. Last week, after a seven-month RCMP investigation, Bissonnette and Ouellette were charged on six counts each. The most serious charge against Bissonnette—bribery—carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail.
Bissonnette, a millionaire businessman, is scheduled to make a preliminary appearance in court on Oct. 5. He insisted last week that his name would be cleared. But for the Tory government, the Oerlikon affair will only add to what is likely to be an autumn of negative publicity. A long-awaited preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 9 into 50 kickback charges against another Quebec Tory MP, Michel Gravel. Also expected soon: the final report of an inquiry into conflict-of-interest allegations against former industry minister Sinclair Stevens and a libel trial involving Robert Coates, forced to resign as defence minister after visiting a strip club in West Germany.
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