Accurso trial canceled, millions missing

Last year, the corruption trial of businessman Tony Accorso, his aide Francesco Bruno and two former tax officials was thwarted due to unreasonable delays under Jordan’s ruling. Thanks to unprecedented access to evidence collected by the police, Journalism Today reveals how, according to investigators, they set out to disappear millions of dollars in bribes.

Posted at 5:00 am

Vincent Laroche

Vincent Laroche
Journalism

It was all due to pornography. Nothing more, Antonio Girardi hit.

It was January 21, 2010 in Bern, Switzerland. Girardi, a former auditor in the Montreal office of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), was fired by the federal government a few months ago. He was searched at his home. Articles in the Canadian media revealed that he was the target of an investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), called Project Coche, which stemmed from information received as part of another criminal investigation into the Montreal mafia. Reports indicated that Mr Girardi, his colleague Adriano Furgiuele and their friend, construction businessman Francesco Bruno, have bank accounts in Switzerland and are suspected of involvement in large tax evasion schemes involving the business of construction magnate Tony Accorso.

So the Swiss judiciary froze their accounts and opened an investigation into money laundering. Mr. Girardi had gone to Bern to persuade the Swiss to unfreeze his funds, because the Canadian investigation was based on the wind, he said.

Photo by Robert Skinner, Press Archives

Antonio Girardi, in January 2021

They have achieved in 19 years of my life. I am accused of receiving and keeping “inappropriate” mail. Mr. Girardi explained, according to an interrogation report written by the Swiss Federal Prosecutor: “To be clear, I received pornographic mail in my mailbox.

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He stressed that an inspection of his home did not reveal “anything significant.”

He said he had an account in Switzerland with a few hundred thousand dollars, which might sound strange to a Canadian tax official, but the money wasn’t really his, he said. He only agreed to put money from his friend, contractor, Francesco Bruno, in his name, to help him protect himself from the creditors in Canada who were destroying him.

“The money was not mine, I just did Mr Bruno a favor,” he said, according to the transcript. “I have never received any money for this” and have never breached the obligations arising from my work,” he added.

A “racist” problem, according to Forgewell

Francesco Bruno and Adriano Forgiuelle also went to Berne to plead their case and persuade the Swiss to unfreeze their funds.

Adriano Forgewell claimed that he was unjustly fired from his job at CRA. He said he was a victim of racism.

“I am of Italian descent and automatically classified as Mafioso. In general, there is an underlying problem with racism in Quebec,” according to the minutes of the Swiss meeting. He also claimed that the money in his Swiss account did not belong to him, and that he only agreed to put Mr. Bruno and his company’s money in his name.

PHOTO MARCO CAMPANOZZI, ARCHIVE PRESS

Adriano Furgiuele, in a Montreal court in January 2018

Francesco Bruno gave the same version. He had explained to Swiss prosecutors that he had been duped by former partners in Canada and found himself crippled with debt. To protect his company’s money, he hid it first in the Bahamas (a tax haven), and then in Switzerland (one of the countries most famous for the secrecy of banking transactions). Not wanting to involve his wife and children in this maneuver, he asked Girardi and Forguel to record their names in the accounts, in order to obtain trustworthy guarantors in the event something went wrong. But he said all the money was his, and he legally earned it with the sweat of his brow.

PHOTO IVANOH DEMERS, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

Francesco Bruno, upon arrival at the RCMP offices in Montreal in the summer of 2012

“I was looking for a way to be able to put some of the profits in a safe place that the creditors could not confiscate,” he said, according to the minutes. The money was then divided into three parts and part of it was sent to the personal accounts of Girardi and Furgiuele, although the money actually belonged to Bruno, according to his account. In doing so, he believed, he would obtain “an extra degree of protection against tax audits”.

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The Swiss authorities have shown their conviction. There was no evidence that the three men’s money was the proceeds of crime. Accounts suspended. Francesco Bruno managed to recover $1.9 million. Girardi and Forgoelli were able to recover approximately $740,000 each. Soon, the money disappeared without a trace.

Preferential tax treatment

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In turn, Antonio Girardi, Francesco Bruno and Adriano Forgiuel, suspected of involvement in large-scale tax fraud schemes, traveled to Bern to persuade the Swiss to melt their money.

The Swiss minutes analyzed come from evidence that was to be presented to the court in the corruption trials of Girardi, Forgoel, Bruno and Accorso. The trial began a year ago in Montreal, but collapsed before the court could consider the case on the merits.

The defense sought to release 802 boxes of additional evidence, and the prosecution realized that it would not be able to make it available in time to meet the deadlines set by the Jordan High Court’s decision, which requires a trial to take place within a reasonable time. . On July 8, Canadian prosecutors threw in the towel and called for a halt to legal proceedings.

Thanks to my lawyer Journalism In court, we were able to obtain a copy of the evidence collected by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in this case. Police allegations cannot be put to the test before the courts, and aborting the trial means that all of the accused are so far innocent.

But according to the police, the money stashed in Switzerland did not come from legitimate activities. These were bribes paid between 2005 and 2008 by construction magnate Tony Accorso to gain the favour of tax officials.

“Circumstantial evidence confirms that Accurso and the companies that exercised their control over it […] They benefited from preferential tax protection or treatment,” wrote the King’s Prosecutor, François Blanchett, in a presentation of the prosecution’s theory.

Photo by Robert Skinner, Press Archives

Tony Akorsu

Francesco Bruno himself confirmed that he had concluded several contracts with Tony Accorso and had known him for a long time. He was also close to tax auditors Adriano Furgiuele, his cousin, and close friend Tony Girardi. According to the police, Bruno helped Accurso win the favor of officials.

Official records seen by police indicate that Girardi and Furgiuele have been tasked over the years with auditing Mr. Accurso’s business for tax purposes. One witness recounted that he even saw them in the offices of Mr. Accorso’s companies, as part of their work. Girardi’s wife and girlfriend Furgiuele, who also worked as auditors, was appointed for a certain time in the files of the respective companies.

The Tony Accorso group of companies was doing a lot of business at that time: in some years its turnover approached half a billion dollars.

“Given the importance of tax-at-risk amounts to the companies involved, the ability to take advantage of the ‘benevolent interest’ of auditors from the Canada Revenue Agency is clearly a notable advantage for Accurso.” M summarizes.e Blanchett.

fake invoices

Millions of dollars that Tony Accorso paid to Bruno, Girardi and Forgoel were taken directly from his companies’ accounts, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who said they found checks signed by him and forged invoices for bogus expenses intended to disguise the real use. money.

“This way of doing things allowed him to withdraw fraudulent funds from his companies for personal allocation, in particular to make corruptible payments to Furgiuele, Girardi and their partner Bruno,” the attorney general explains.

No one in his business appears to be monitoring the contractor’s use of funds. “He had the power to make agreements and pay the people he had to pay.” Frank Minicucci, Tony Accorso’s former right-hand man, testified in the initial investigation, It’s his company, he has the power, he has the power, then his money.

All that Mr. Accorso did in his expenses, we let him go, meaning we didn’t ask a thousand and one questions […] No one in the company interfered.

Frank Minicucci, former right-hand man of Tony Accorso, during the preliminary investigation

The money Mr Accurso first paid in the Bahamas was placed through the services of fund manager Martin Tremblay, of Geneva’s private bank Ferrer Loughlin, according to an analysis of the movement of funds by the RCMP.

Photo provided by Radio Canada

Martin Tremblay, 2000s fund manager of the private bank of Geneva Ferrer Loughlin

Mr Bruno himself confirmed in his interview with Swiss prosecutors that it was the Royal Bank of Canada’s counsel, Natalie Racine, who had referred him to Martin Tremblay, telling him that she had redirected several Canadian clients to the financial advisor based in the Bahamas (MI Racine did not respond to requests for comment from Journalism).

PHOTO IVANOH DEMERS, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

Fund Manager Martin Tremblay offices in Nassau, Bahamas

Mr. Bruno also said that the US authorities’ arrest in 2006 of Martin Tremblay and his 48-month prison sentence for illegally funneling money through his company had given him headaches, as he had no interlocutor able to realize that his money was illegal. really him. He finally managed to transfer everything into Swiss bank accounts in his name as well as in the names of MM. Girardi and Forguelli.

Part of the money went through a shell company registered in Panama, and through a bank account in Singapore (two tax havens). In 2009, Switzerland paused the funds, until the three men went to Bern to clarify their origin. When they managed to get the money, they disappeared.

The attorney general concludes in his document that “the RCMP have lost track of the funds in question”.

There remained criminal charges. Tony Accorso, Francesco Bruno, Antonio Girardi and Adriano Forgiuel faced a series of charges between 2012 and 2018, including breach of trust by a public official, forgery, fraud and conspiracy. They risked many years in prison.

The abortion at trial last July removed that risk for good.

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