Forced to resign as candidate and president of the CAQ in 2018 because of his involvement in a high-interest loan company, Stéphane Le Bouyonnec is now deputy minister. This former heavyweight in François Legault’s party still has links with the company. He will even have to explain in court questionable payments that she made, according to the testimony of a former senior executive, to repay a debt of her partners in organized crime.
In June 2018, Le Journal de Montréal revealed that the president of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) was a shareholder and chairman of the board of directors of Finabanx, a private loan company with 87% interest or more. The company is active only in English Canada: the practice is prohibited in Quebec.
Candidate in La Prairie for his party, the businessman had “made a mistake”, declared future Prime Minister François Legault. Stéphane Le Bouyonnec had first abandoned his position at the head of the company controlling Finabanx. Then he finally resigned as president of the CAQ and withdrew his candidacy for the elections the following August.
Five years later, this former pillar of the CAQ was rehabilitated in the senior public service. Mr. Le Bouyonnec joined her in December 2020 as associate secretary general, high-speed internet, within François Legault’s Ministry of Executive Council. Then, last October, Quebec promoted him to Deputy Minister of Cybersecurity and Digital Affairs under Éric Caire.
Lawsuits between Finabanx shareholders, however, reveal that he still has an interest of $500,000 in the high-interest loan company (see the last text of the file).
Court documents also show that Stéphane Le Bouyonnec quickly returned to work at Finabanx after leaving politics, as executive chairman. Just before joining the civil service in December 2020, he was trying to quell a serious governance crisis within Finabanx, notably caused by a questionable payment of $750,000 to the company’s two co-founders, Yannick Garand and Esther Ross.
This money would have been used to repay a debt the couple had with organized crime. At least that’s what the chief financial officer of Finabanx at the time, Frédérique Peter Boucher, understood following a conversation with Yannick Garand.
“He said the “Irish”, then the “Italians”, something like that, people who are – to use his terms – tannants”, he explained in out-of-court interrogation, under oath, as part of a conflict between the shareholders of Finabanx. Originally, the embarrassing loan would have been used to “start” the business, according to Frédérique Peter Boucher.
“This is one of the big questions surrounding this issue, things which, in fact, we realized, were not clear,” agrees Stéphane Le Bouyonnec, in an interview with La Presse. In terms of due diligence, I probably should have gone further. »
With her partner Yannick Garand, Esther Ross is co-founder of Finabanx. The main shareholder according to the company register, she assures in an email to La Presse that these assertions are “unfounded”.
According to the businesswoman, the $750,000 was to be used in particular to “pay off credit cards” and loans to the couple’s parents.
La Presse attempted without success to directly obtain Yannick Garand’s version of the facts.
In the company’s accounts, the transaction, carried out in 2019, took the form of a redemption of the founders’ preferred shares, according to company documents filed as evidence.
The transfer of funds took place behind the backs of the minority shareholders of Finabanx from Quebec Inc. that Stéphane Le Bouyonnec had attracted to the company. Former SNC-Lavalin CEO Jacques Lamarre, ex-fund manager Jean-Luc Landry, former Virginia Mines boss André Gaumond and Érik Péladeau, brother of Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau, have all invested in Finabanx with him. In principle, he had to protect their interests, as “chairman of the council”.
But they learned of the transaction only a year later, when the information reached the ears of the company’s main financier at the time, the CEO of Montreal electronic payments giant Nuvei Philip Fayer. With the wealth management firm Palomino Capital, he had granted Finabanx a credit line of 20 million, according to court documents. Provided that the company does not make any unauthorized outflow of funds.
Contacted through his publicist, Philip Fayer declined to comment.
Stéphane Le Bouyonnec assures that he “always objected” to the payment of $750,000 to Garand and Ross. “I’ve never agreed with that in 100 years,” he said in an interview. Even today, he says he does not know if the money actually went to people close to the underworld.
Contacted by text message, Frédérique Peter Boucher refused to discuss her sworn statements with La Presse. “I don’t even know if it’s true and I never wanted to know or be involved in it,” the accountant said. These are only Garand’s words. »
As chief financial officer, he was in principle the guardian of the company’s cash flow.