Canadian engineering giant SNC-Lavalin has made an unprecedented appeal to the court of public opinion in its bid to avoid a lengthy trial for corruption charges.
On Friday, 19 October the company paid for "An open letter to Canadians" in four of the country’s most influential newspapers.
In it, company president and chief executive Neil Bruce (pictured) apologised for "shortcomings" in the years before 2012, when the company is accused of paying bribes to Libyan officials totalling nearly CAN$48m in the decade to 2011.
This debate is about what is right for this country– Neil Bruce, SNC-Lavalin chief executive
Bruce said SNC-Lavalin had reformed, and reiterated his hope that the government’s new Remediation Agreement scheme can be applied to it in order to avoid trial.
SNC-Lavalin’s shares plunged 14% earlier this month when it revealed that the government had refused to offer it such an agreement.
Bruce previously said the refusal of Canada’s Public Prosecution Service to offer a Remediation Agreement could result in up to four more years of court battles, The Canadian Press (CP) news agency reported, adding that the case resumes on 29 October.
A conviction could bar the company from federal government contracts for up to 10 years, leading to domestic layoffs, CP commented.
Canada’s Remediation Agreement regime came into effect only in September this year, allowing companies to avoid prosecution in return for admitting wrongdoing, paying fines, and implementing reform measures.
Appealing to his companies engineering feats, Neil Bruce mentioned the Daniel-Johnson Dam in Quebec, which opened in 1970 (Boucheci/CC BY-SA 3.0)
In his letter, Bruce said such an agreement would protect the company’s employees, customers, pensioners "and other innocent stakeholders who did nothing wrong, from the effects of a potential criminal conviction of the corporation".
"The truth is, the events prior to 2012 that led to the federal charges should have never taken place," he wrote. "They did, however, result in fundamental cultural, governance, and leadership changes. The management team at SNC-Lavalin is entirely new, and I apologize to all for the shortcomings during that period.
"In the years since, we have worked tirelessly to achieve excellence in governance and integrity because we want to regain the confidence of all our stakeholders and employees, and mostly that of all Canadians."
He asked Canadians to think of SNC-Lavalin’s 9,000 Canadian employees (of 52,000 globally), and of the many small companies in its supply chain, "who form the very backbone of the country’s economy".
"This debate is about what is right for this country," Bruce said.
He also mentioned the landmark infrastructures his company had built since its founding in 1911, including the Daniel-Johnson Dam (formerly the Manic-5), a multiple-arch buttress hydropower dam on the Manicouagan River in Quebec, which opened in 1970.
In 2015, after a three-year investigation, Canada’s national police force laid charges against the SNC-Lavalin Group and two subsidiaries, alleging that between 2001 and 2011 the company offered millions of dollars in bribes, and defrauded Libyan officials of millions more.
Three former company executives had previously been charged, including former chief executive Pierre Duhaime.
Top image: SNC-Lavalin president and chief executive Neil Bruce (SNC-Lavalin/Youtube)