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Opposition puts heat on Gagliano

MPs demand minister detail Crown deals with ex-senator of Italy convicted of fraud

G&M Monday, November 5, 2001 - Page A10

OTTAWA -- Opposition MPs reacted with outrage this weekend after learning that a former Italian senator who was entangled in corruption investigations and convicted of fraud in his home country obtained contracts with the Canadian government and Canadian citizenship.

They want answers from Alfonso Gagliano, the Minister of Public Works and overseer of the two Crown corporations that hired Maurizio Creuso.

They want to know the relationship between Mr. Gagliano and Mr. Creuso: friendship over two decades, as Mr. Creuso says, or simple collaboration on a few files, as Mr. Gagliano's office says.

"I can't see any way that this would just be a coincidence," New Democrat MP Pat Martin said yesterday. "As you peel the layers off this onion, the more it stinks." Grant Hill, deputy leader of the Canadian Alliance, wants Mr. Gagliano to clear the air, and quickly. "There seems to be a cloud that follows him around."

He said that Mr. Gagliano has had problems in the past explaining the allocation of contracts by his department. In particular, the opposition has questioned millions of dollars in contracts between departments and agencies that fall under Mr. Gagliano's authority and a company owned by Michèle Tremblay, one of Mr. Gagliano's friends and supporters.

In addition, Mr. Creuso was part of a Canadian government delegation that travelled to Poland in January of 2000, along with Mr. Gagliano.

Mr. Hill said it is incumbent upon Mr. Gagliano to lay out the nature of his relationship with Mr. Creuso. He said it is troubling that the minister travelled abroad with someone who has a criminal past.

The opposition was reacting to a story in Saturday's Globe and Mail that details Mr. Creuso's legal problems and his recent contracts with the Canadian government. Mr. Creuso has acted as an "agent" for Canada Post and is working with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. on a project in Italy.

Through a spokesman, Mr. Gagliano denied Mr. Creuso is a friend. He also denied vehemently that he helped Mr. Creuso obtain government contracts or citizenship.

Mr. Gagliano's spokesman, Eric Tétrault, said Mr. Creuso's contracts were with Crown corporations and have nothing to do with Mr. Gagliano's role as minister.

He joked that it would probably be hard for a Canadian agency to hire a former Italian politician without a troubled past.

"Seen from Canada, when you look at the pedigree of Italian politicians, it seems to be within the norm," Mr. Tétrault said.

Italian authorities started investigating allegations of corruption against Mr. Creuso in 1992. As part of a 1994 plea bargain, or patteggiamento, Mr. Creuso agreed to pay a fine of about $250,000, Italian newspaper reports say.

In an interview, he said that the payment was not an admission of guilt but a way to put the matter behind him. But the prosecution alleged in 1995 that the money was never paid and that false documents had been created as part of the cover-up. Newspapers say that in 1999, Mr. Creuso was sentenced to 16 months in jail for fraud.

Mr. Creuso said he has not gone to jail and that the matter is still before the courts.