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Fraud trial of ex deputy Quebec premier Normandeau likely to begin in early 2018

QUEBEC — The fraud-related trial of ex-deputy Quebec premier Nathalie Normandeau and five co-accused will likely be held in early 2018 and last at least four months, the Crown said Tuesday.

Prosecutor Claude Dussault said he has 139 potential witnesses, although not all will necessarily testify.

It's hard to offer an exact timeline for the trial, he explained, because while the Crown knows how long it will take to make its case, the defence is another story.

``There could be no defence or there could be a long one,'' Dussault said outside a Quebec City courtroom. ``Our evidence will take about four months. We are ready to proceed _ and as soon as possible.''

Normandeau, 49, is charged with conspiracy, corruption, breach of trust and fraud in a scheme in which political financing and gifts were allegedly exchanged for lucrative government contracts between 2000 and 2012.

She and six others were arrested in March 2016.

One of the seven, ex-Parti Quebecois political aide Ernest Murray, pleaded guilty last month to counselling a criminal offence that was not committed.

Murray admitted to sending an email to an engineering firm with names of people he claimed were willing to be used in a scheme to violate campaign finance laws.

Last Friday, Quebec Superior Court Justice Richard Grenier ruled the Crown couldn't ask for a jury trial for the six accused because many of the charges they face carry penalties of less than five years in detention upon conviction.

The six will therefore be tried before judge alone.

``We would have preferred they be judged by their peers,'' Dussault said. ``However, according to their wishes, they want to be tried in Quebec court and we will be ready and are already ready to proceed.''

Normandeau served as a Liberal member of the legislature for a riding on the Gaspe peninsula from 1998 to 2011 and held key cabinet positions as well as being deputy premier from 2007 to 2011.

The parties are scheduled to return to court Sept. 19, when a trial date is expected to be set.

© 2017 The Canadian Press

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