Ethics: the ex-boss of Otéra says he was fired so that the Caisse de dépôt saves face

Ethics: Otéra’s ex-boss said he was ; fired to save face for the Caisse de depot


The former CEO of a subsidiary of the Caisse de dépôt fired for ethical breaches claims to have been sacrificed to allow the woolen stocking of Quebecers to save its image, when the institution was the subject of reports unflattering media.

“They made sure my career was over. They threw me in front of the bus, ”said Alfonso Graceffa, who headed Otéra Capital, the Caisse’s commercial real estate loan arm, until May 2019.

Mr. Graceffa testified at the opening of the trial against the Caisse. He is claiming $6.9 million from the latter for wrongful dismissal and defamation. 

The ex-CEO admitted certain shortcomings on Monday. He admits that he did not disclose to his superiors that he had become a shareholder in 2013 of Construction St-Gabrielle, a company run by his brother. He also did not inform them that he had loaned, through his holding company, nearly $2 million to this company.

But that did not justify his dismissal in this way, according to him. Especially since he claims to have informed the Caisse in 2007 of his other financial interests, including the rental properties he owned. Her lawyer Marie-France Tozzi described her as “a rising star at the Caisse de depot”, which received promotions “year after year”.

The Caisse showed the door to M Graceffa, along with three other executives, in the wake of a $5 million external investigation she launched following reports from our Bureau of Investigation.

Career “destroyed”

The former leader has a lot on his heart. He claims to have been fired by a simple letter, without having been able to explain his version of the facts to Otéra's human resources department.

He especially criticizes the Caisse for having maintained a certain public vagueness on this for which she blamed him, when she announced her departure on May 28, 2019. The institution then spoke of links with organized crime, without specifying which dismissed employee had these links.

“Everything I have worked for all my life has been destroyed. Since I am Italian, the first thing people think is: he is linked to the mafia. (…) My career was destroyed that day, that's what happened, ”he said not without emotion before judge Andres Garin, before taking a sip of water.

Justified dismissal

The Caisse de depot, for its part, intends to demonstrate during the 12-day trial that the dismissal of Graceffa was perfectly justified.

Mason Poplaw, the lawyer defending the Caisse, pointed out in court that the former CEO of Opera had behaved in ways that “do not correspond to the expectations that one could have of one of the highest leaders of a financial institution”.

According to him, “depositors are entitled to expect to have the highest level of ethics and integrity in an institution like the Caisse”.

A long list of witnesses should appear in the coming days, including the former CEO of the Caisse Michael Sabia and the former president of Ivanhoé Cambridge Daniel Fournier.

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Nearly $2 million in compensation

How much can the boss of a major subsidiary of the Caisse earn? A lot of money. Here is an overview of Alfonso Graceffa's annual compensation just before his dismissal:

-A base salary of $460,000

-A “profit-sharing plan short-term incentive plan” of $644,000

-A “long-term incentive plan” of $400,000

-A “special bonus” of $400,000

-An allowance for his vehicle of $2,000 per month

Total: $1,928,000 per year