Friday, May 05, 2006
WHY IS FRANK BRANCH ON TRIAL IN THE IRVING'S PAPERS??? WHY DID THE IRVINGS FIND FRANK GUILTY???? ARE THE IRVINGS THE JUDGES????
NB Telegraph-Journal | Provincial News
As published on page A1/A2 on May 5, 2006
Commission outlines charges against Branch
A group of about 100 woodlot owners gathered for the public meeting
By Shannon Hagerman
BATHURST - The New Brunswick Forest Products Commission broke its silence Thursday on its investigation of a northern forestry agency once managed by Independent MLA Frank Branch.
The commission has dismissed Mr. Branch, the MLA for Nepisiguit, as board manager of the North Shore Forest Products Marketing Board and suspended 11 board members.
Bernard Valcourt, the commission chair, told about 100 private woodlot owners who gathered inside a conference centre outside Bathurst the investigation has revealed "disturbing facts" about the way the board was being run.
Mr. Valcourt said the commission launched its investigation last fall after a letter surfaced containing serious allegations of impropriety and mismanagement at the Bathurst-based wood marketing board.
Among the allegations was that the veteran MLA signed a lucrative managerial contract in 2001 with the board of directors.
The contract stipulated Mr. Branch would be eligible to receive up to $378,000 if his contract was terminated by the board before it expired in 2011.
"According to the conditions of the contract, notwithstanding the fact that Mr. Branch was terminated after one year, the board would still have to pay him nine years of salary or expenses, or $378,000," said Mr. Valcourt.
The letter alleged the contract was struck in exchange for the hiring of a board member, who Mr. Branch then asked to convince the rest of the board to sign off on the 10-year deal.
The letter also stated some board members and Mr. Branch were using their position to gain personal benefits, Mr. Valcourt said.
"The letter in question also made other allegations that Mr. Branch and other members of the board used their position to gain personal benefits to which they were not entitled, including, literally, acts of fraud," he said.
None of the allegations have been proven.
Mr. Valcourt didn't stipulate whether any of the allegations were confirmed when the commission hired retired RCMP assistant commissioner Tim Quigley and the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche to investigate the allegations.
Bathurst City Police continue to investigate the matter and have sealed the board's financial records, he said.
He declined to discuss details about the police investigation, but said the commission felt it was acting in the best interests of local woodlot owners by taking control of the local board.
The commission has named an advisory committee and will appoint new board members before December 2007 to oversee the agency.
Mr. Branch, who sat in the audience during Mr. Valcourt's 45-minute address, listened but declined to discuss the allegations in detail after the meeting ended.
He told reporters he will make a statement about the allegations later.
"I just don't want to get into direct comments now. I have made some notes. I would like to sit down and think about what took place here this evening and we'll move on from there," he said.
Speaking in French, Mr. Branch denied receiving any "gifts" while serving as manager of the local marketing board.
The local MLA had a lot of supporters in the conference room.
During his speech, Mr. Valcourt was interrupted several times by hecklers and questions.
"If you aren't interested you know what you can do," Mr. Valcourt, said as one man asked how the commission had got a copy of the letter.
When it was time for local woodlot owners to ask questions, two former board members stood at a microphone and defended their record while questioning the commission's motives for launching the investigation.
Bernard Hache, a former board member from District 10, said the commission's allegation has left a cloud over the former board.
"People think "... we filled our pockets. It's like an assault."
Mr. Hache said the board was acting in the best interests of local woodlot owners to improve the board's financial condition and to boost spending on silviculture.
"If we did little favours for Frank Branch, for all the thousands of hours he put in ".... well, all companies reward those who do things," he said. "He didn't take any money ... he might have (received) small favours, I agree."
Francois Richard, who said he works in a tree nursery the agency owns, demanded that the commission allow local woodlot owners inside the meeting to elect a new board on the spot. Mr. Richard said it is unfair for the commission to take local control of the marketing board away from private woodlot owners.
"We didn't elect you guys I don't know what you are doing up there sitting there," said Mr. Richard.
The request was denied by Mr. Valcourt, who ended the meeting.
Mr. Valcourt defended the commission's decision to take over control of the local agency on Thursday, saying the commission will restore local oversight as soon as possible.
"As soon as we can we will give back to the woodlot owners."