MONTREAL – The mayor of Canada’s second-largest city was arrested Monday, along with two former city councilors, and faces fraud and corruption charges linked to alleged mafia extortion.
Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum was picked up by police at his home in the early morning hours and taken in for questioning, only months after casting himself as the man to lead the city out of a list of scandals.
Immediately after the news broke, Montreal’s City Council called for the nomination of a new mayor to replace Applebaum within 30 days.
Otherwise, the province could take over management of the second-largest Francophone city in the world, after Paris, until the next scheduled elections in November.
Two former city councilors, including one with ties to Canada’s ruling Conservatives, were also arrested in the police sweep.
They face a total of 23 federal charges, including fraud, collusion, breach of trust and corruption. Details of the accusations were not immediately available.
Applebaum is accused of having received illicit commissions in two real estate development deals in the neighborhood he represented on the Montreal City Council between 2006 and 2011, authorities told a news conference. “These were bribes that influenced a decision, approvals or permit distribution,” one of the investigators said.
The trio’s arrest comes amid a corruption probe that has gripped the city for more than a year and led former Mayor Gerald Tremblay to resign in November, as well as the arrest in a sweep last month of nearby Laval’s longtime mayor for alleged fraud and gangsterism.
Quebec province’s anti-corruption squad raided Montreal City Hall in February, asking employees to leave the building as they searched through files.
Officials with the anti-corruption unit UPAC said it had gathered evidence of Applebaum’s and others’ alleged fraud and breach of trust there, as well as at eight other locations, including the offices of several boroughs.
“The message is clear: all actions which compromise the integrity of the state are unacceptable,” police said Monday.
Applebaum, a former real estate agent and Montreal’s first English-speaking mayor in more than a century, replaced Tremblay after he resigned over a scheme in which his party allegedly received kickbacks from government construction bids.
A commission headed by Superior Court Justice France Charbonneau is investigating alleged graft and bid-rigging as well.
The witnesses alleged that the mayor was aware of illegal party financing and campaign spending, but Tremblay has denied any wrongdoing.
Authorities said that former Montreal City Councilor Saulie Zajdel was arrested with Applebaum.
Zajdel was a failed Conservative candidate in the last federal election and thereafter briefly worked in Heritage Minister James Moore’s office.
The third arrested politician, Jean-Yves Bisson, is a former borough manager in Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace, where Applebaum served as mayor for a decade.
Officials said they expect more arrests in the coming days.