Saying he violated the oath he took when sworn in as mayor of Montreal, the city’s legal department argued its case in court Wednesday to have former mayor Michael Applebaum return the $268,000 he received in severance pay.
Applebaum, 56, resigned from office a day after his arrest on corruption charges in 2013. He was convicted of fraud against the government, conspiracy, corruption in municipal affairs and breach of trust in January 2017.
New legislative rules passed in December 2016, and amended in 2018, require former elected officials to reimburse any transition allowance received if found guilty of fraud or other crimes punishable by two years or more in prison.
“Every word, every comma of the law applies to Mr. Applebaum’s situation,” a lawyer representing the city, Sarah Simard, told the judge on Wednesday.
Applebaum received $159,719 as a transition allowance, which the city says is given to outgoing politicians to help them transition back to private life. He also received $108,204 in “departure pay” from the city.
Montreal filed the lawsuit in May 2017.
But Applebaum is arguing the law doesn’t apply to him since it came into effect after he received the payments.
“There’s no indication in the law that it should be applied retroactively,” said defence lawyer Anamaria Natalia Manole. “(Applebaum) is not required to reimburse the two payments, which were an acquired right at the time he received them.”
Applebaum served his sentence for the crimes, Manole added, “and today is an attempt, perhaps, by the city of Montreal to punish him again.”
At the Montreal courthouse for the hearing, Applebaum refused to comment on the case but briefly addressed reporters in the hallway.
“I’m sure that many people are questioning how I’m doing and everything, but I can tell you that I’m very healthy, I’m doing fine,” Applebaum said. “I’m very happy with my private life. I have a beautiful life and I’m enjoying myself.”
Simard told the court Applebaum’s arrest “created a shockwave in municipal politics” and, coinciding with the Charbonneau Commission into corruption and collusion, led to “a generalized suspicion toward elected officials.”
“We can understand the population’s discontentment when faced with people who, while carrying out democratic functions, abuse their oath of office,” Simard said.
Applebaum became a city councillor in 1994, Côte-des-Neiges—N.D.G. borough mayor in 2002 and was a member of Mayor Gérald Tremblay’s executive committee from 2009 to 2012. He became mayor of Montreal in November 2012, after Tremblay resigned following revelations made at the Charbonneau Commission.
He was arrested in June 2013 and resigned the next day. He was found guilty on eight corruption-related charges for extorting roughly $60,000 in bribes from developers.
Applebaum was released from prison in 2017 after serving two months of a 12-month sentence.
The arguments continue Wednesday afternoon.