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National Post - Aug. 17, 2010 - By Megan O'Toole - email@example.com
Executive denies direct role in land deal scandal
Even as Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion pressured the chief executive of pension giant OMERS for concessions on her son's land deal, Michael Nobrega told an inquiry yesterday that he had no direct role in negotiations--despite evidence of ongoing correspondence on the project between himself and the Mayor.
Mr. Nobrega, who has headed the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System for more than three years, yesterday described himself as "the meat in the sandwich," a peripheral player who merely passed the Mayor's inquiries down the chain of command for response by appropriate staff.
At the heart of the deal, which fell apart in 2009, was Peter Mc-Callion's company, World Class Developments. The firm wanted to purchase a parcel of land from OMERS and its co-vendor, Alberta Investment Management, to build a hotel complex in the city centre.
Mississauga's judicial inquiry into allegedly suspect business dealings yesterday saw dozens of emails and telephone records outlining a dialogue between the mayor and Mr. Nobrega on the deal, from which Peter McCallion stood to gain in excess of $10-million.
In one email, Mr. Nobrega told a colleague the Mayor had "made a plea" for OMERS and its subsidiary, Oxford, to cut World Class "some slack" on overdue deposits.
"I had been at the forefront of receiving all the calls from the Mayor on this issue," Mr. Nobrega said, but noted he funnelled all such queries to his colleagues at Oxford.
City lawyer Clifford Lax questioned why Mr. Nobrega would have received a steady stream of calls and emails on the project both from the Mayor and Oxford representatives; Mr. Nobrega suggested he was simply being kept "up to date." He conceded, however, that his subordinates would be more likely to the Mayor's requests when he forwareded them on.
Mr. Nobrega said he never personally discussed the transaction with Peter McCallion, a partial owner and real-estate agent for World Class. Mr. Nobrega says he was unaware of the younger McCallion's involvement until 2008. Even after he found out, Mr. Nobrega appeared unconcerned about the perception of conflicting interests, with the Mayor having thrown her considerable weight behind the project. "Peter McCallion was not a person of interest to me," Mr. Nobrega said. "[H]e was just a hanger-on."
Pressed later on whether there was an appearance of conflict, Mr. Nobrega said that was an issue for the commissioner to decide: "I'm not here to run the city's politics or the city's administration."
Mr. Nobrega says he was not trying to protect the McCallions through the settlement, but rather to neutralize the threat of a lawsuit from Mr. McCallion's company. He believes the settlement, which has stirred outrage among councillors, was reasonable and "very clean."
The same land was ultimately purchased by the city for a Sheridan College campus.
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