The mayor of Montreal resigned on Tuesday following his arrest on corruption charges, vowing to clear his name and insisting he was innocent of wrongdoing.
Michael Applebaum, the first English-speaking mayor of Canada’s second-largest city in more than 100 years, said he was stepping down one day after he was arrested and charged with fraud, collusion, breach of trust and corruption.
“I maintain my innocence,” Applebaum told a press conference. “I want to be clear, I have never taken a penny from anyone.”
Applebaum said he was resigning in order to focus on clearing his name.
“Being mayor of Montreal is not a task that one can do while defending themselves against accusations of this nature and I hope that you’ll understand that I’ll put my energies into my defence and into my family,” he said.
Frenzy followed his announcement as councilors jockeyed to succeed Applebaum as interim mayor until the next municipal election in November.
The city council’s executive committee is expected to make that decision within the next 30 days.
But pundits voiced amazement that anyone would want the tarnished job, given the seemingly insurmountable task of reestablishing voters’ trust in politicians in a Canadian province gripped for more than a year by scandals.
Applebaum, a former real estate agent, replaced Gerald Tremblay after he resigned in November over a scheme in which his party allegedly received kickbacks from government construction bids.
Nearby Laval’s longtime mayor also quit after he was arrested in a police sweep last month for alleged fraud and gangsterism.
Quebec province’s anti-corruption squad meanwhile has made frequent headlines raiding Montreal city hall and other municipal offices.
As well, a commission headed by Superior Court Justice France Charbonneau has uncovered allegations of widespread corruption in Quebec.
The commission was launched in 2011 to investigate alleged graft and bid-rigging after a leaked police report pointed to evidence that construction companies were banding together to keep prices high, and possibly had links to organised crime.
But in daily televised grilling of witnesses it has revealed alleged mafia skimming of 2.5-per cent of public contracts as cities in the province underwent a construction boom in recent decades.
It has aired police wiretaps of mafiosos intimidating bidders on construction projects, and of socks stuffed with cash.
Police accused Applebaum of having received illicit commissions in relation to two real estate development deals in the neighbourhood he represented on the Montreal City Council between 2006 and 2011.
“These were bribes that influenced a decision, approvals or permit distribution,” one of the investigators told a press conference.
Officials did not provide details of the alleged crimes.
But local media said they involved the awarding of a management contract for a city sports complex and a demolishment permit to make way for a luxury condo in Applebaum’s Notre-Dame-de-Grbce-Ctte-des-Neiges neighbourhood.
Applebaum is to appear in court in October.