Canada’s three-year investigation into corruption involving the global engineering giant SNC-Lavalin has now resulted in charges against the company itself in relation to its business dealings in Libya. Three former company executives have already been charged.
SNC-Lavalin believes the charges are "without merit" and says it will "vigorously defend itself". The group’s president and CEO, Robert Card (pictured), called for a sense of proportion, citing the firm’s 40,000 staff.
Yesterday Canada’s national police, the RCMP, laid charges against the SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., its division SNC-Lavalin Construction Inc. and its subsidiary SNC-Lavalin International Inc.
The three entities were each charged with one count of corruption under the country’s Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act and one count of fraud under the Criminal Code. The alleged criminal acts surfaced as part of a criminal investigation that started in 2011 into the company’s business dealings in Libya.
The RCMP alleges that between 2001 and 2011 SNC-Lavalin offered just under $47.7m in bribes and defrauded Libyan officials of just under CAN$130m.
In court documents submitted in Montreal yesterday, the fraud charge refers to Libya’s Great Man Made River Project, the General People’s Committee for Transport Civil Aviation Authority, Lican Drilling Co Ltd, and the Organization for Development of Administrative Centers.
In August 2014 SNC-Lavalin’s former vice president in charge of construction, Riadh Ben Aissa, admitted in a Swiss court that he had bribed Saadi Gaddafi, son of Libya’s late dictator, Moammar Gaddafi, so SNC-Lavalin could win contracts.
Riadh Ben Aissa was extradited to Canada in October 2014 from Switzerland, where he spent 29 months in prison in connection with SNC-Lavalin’s business in Libya.
On 13 February this year another former senior SNC-Lavalin executive, Sami Bebawi, was released on bail after being charged with offences including fraud, extortion, and bribing a foreign official.
A third man, Stephane Roy, a former vice-president at SNC-Lavalin, has been charged with fraud, bribing a foreign public official and contravening a United Nations economic measures act related to Libya.
"Corruption of foreign officials undermines good governance and sustainable economic development," Gilles Michaud, commanding officer of the RCMP’s National Division, said in a statement. "The charges laid today demonstrate how the RCMP continues to support Canada’s international commitments and safeguard its integrity and reputation."
SNC-Lavalin hit back against the charges on the same day, arguing that the alleged perpetrators had all left the company and that the company had helped police in the investigations.
"The company firmly considers that the charges are without merit and will vigorously defend itself," it said in a statement.
Group president and CEO, Robert Card, said: "The charges stem from the same alleged activities of former employees from over three years ago in Libya, which are publicly known, and that the company has cooperated on with authorities since then."
He appealed for a sense of proportion in the case, citing the firm’s 40,000 employees.
"Even though SNC-Lavalin has already incurred significant financial damage and losses as a result of actions taken prior to March 2012, we have always been and remain willing to reach a reasonable and fair solution that promotes accountability," Card said, "while permitting us to continue to do business and protect the livelihood of our over 40,000 employees, our clients, our investors and our other stakeholders."
The charges relate to "alleged reprehensible deeds" by former employees, so they should be levelled against the individuals in question, not the company, SNC-Lavalin said in its statement.
The charges come as a further blow to the company just as a separate corruption case – relating to an alleged bribery scheme connected to the CAN$1.3bn contract to build Montreal’s new McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) – gets underway. Police believe that former executives of SNC-Lavalin channelled CAN$22.5m to the former director of MUHC, Arthur Porter, in return for winning the contract in 2010.
Among those charged in the MUHC case are former SNC-Lavalin chief executive Pierre Duhaime, whom Robert Card replaced in 2012, Stephane Roy, and Riadh Ben Aissa.
Photograph: SNC-Lavalin group president and CEO, Robert Card (SNC-Lavalin)