(Reuters) - Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum resigned on Tuesday, a day after he was charged with fraud and corruption in the latest major Canadian municipal scandal.
“I am going to put my energies into my defense and into my family,” said Applebaum, who had promised to clean up Canada’s second-largest city when he was named to the post in November.
Declaring his innocence, he added in a statement to reporters: “This is why I am resigning as mayor of Montreal - it is the responsible thing to do.”
His departure will do little to help the reputation of Quebec, where a two-year public inquiry led by Judge France Charbonneau is unearthing almost daily allegations of contract rigging, kickbacks and fraud going back many years.
Harout Chitilian, speaker of Montreal’s city council, said corruption did not occur overnight.
“It’s a systemic issue, and we realize from the Charbonneau inquiry that, over the past two decades, perhaps even the past three decades, the system was infiltrated by dark forces,” he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Applebaum, a former real estate agent, was appointed after predecessor Gérald Tremblay stepped down amid allegations he had ignored corruption and illegal spending by his political party. Tremblay also denies wrongdoing.
Montreal, a city of 1.7 million, must find another interim mayor ahead of a municipal election due on November 3.
Further west, in the province of Ontario, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is resisting calls to quit as leader of Canada’s largest city after two media outlets said they viewed a video that appeared to show him smoking crack cocaine.
Ford says he does not use crack cocaine, and Reuters has not been able to verify the existence of the video.
Applebaum faces 14 charges linked to two real estate deals from 2006 to 2011, when he was mayor in Montreal’s Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough.
He is charged with fraud, breach of trust, conspiracy, municipal corruption and secret payments involving tens of thousands of dollars. Police have not said who they suspect handed over the money.
“I have never taken a penny from anybody ... the accusations against me are unfounded,” Applebaum said.
Michael Nadeau, executive manager of the Institute for Governance of Public and Private Organizations, said the city could struggle to find a qualified interim mayor.
“This is quite a challenge right now, to attract experienced and competent candidates,” he told CBC.
The mayor of Laval, a Montreal suburb, resigned in 2012, but denied allegations of corruption. Gilles Vaillancourt was arrested last month and charged with gangsterism, fraud and corruption. Laval has since been placed under trusteeship.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Janet Guttsman and Stacey Joyce