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SNC-Lavalin and Trudeau: A primer on the controversy

The SNC-Lavalin scandal rocked Canadian politics this past week, culminating in the resignation of Veterans Affairs Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould on Tuesday.

But the scandal itself is complicated and has many implications.

Here’s a breakdown of the issues at play.

What does SNC-Lavalin do?

Global News

SNC-Lavalin is an engineering and construction firm based in Montreal and was once considered one of the top engineering companies in the world.

Its work has included government contracts, mining, transportation and infrastructure. It gained a reputation for building a large dam in Quebec that spearheaded the province’s development of hydroelectricity and for developing the skill sets for thousands of Quebec workers.

It is still considered a crown jewel in Quebec, according to business experts.

According to its website, it was founded in 1911 and it employs 50,000 people around the world, including over 8,500 in Canada.

What are the criminal charges?

In 2015, the RCMP charged SNC-Lavalin, along with its international division, with corruption and fraud in relation with their business dealings in Libya.

The RCMP said officials at the company attempted to bribe several public officials in the country, including dictator Moammar Gadhafi, as well as other businesses in Libya.

RCMP officials said SNC-Lavalin also lied to Libyan companies to defraud them of nearly $130 million.

If convicted, the company would be barred from bidding on federal projects for 10 years, and current federal contracts would be in jeopardy.

FROM THE ARCHIVE: RCMP lay fraud, corruption charges against SNC-Lavalin in 2015

What is the Prime Minister’s Office accused of doing?

SNC-Lavalin attempted to avoid a trial for the criminal charges, but in October, back when Wilson-Raybould was Canada’s attorney general and justice minister, federal prosecutors refused to negotiate a deal under a newly passed remediation agreement regime.

The remediation regime became law through Bill C-74 in June 2018 and would have imposed a fine in exchange for abandoning court proceedings. It allows corporations to skip a conviction and keep bidding on federal projects, which could protect the company from layoffs and financial troubles.

In a bombshell report, the Globe and Mail alleged SNC-Lavalin lobbied the PMO’s office to secure the remediation agreement.

The report said Wilson-Raybould was pressured to get federal prosecutors to change their refusal to negotiate remediation, but she was unwilling.

Trudeau called the allegations in the Globe report “false” and said no one in his office “directed” Wilson-Raybould to make any decision, but refused to comment when asked whether there had been any broader “influence” efforts

SNC-Lavalin filed an application for a review of the decision on remediation in October.

Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of her position as justice minister and attorney general and made Minister of Veterans Affairs in January. Quebec MP David Lametti replaced her.

The ethics commissioner of Canada is looking into whether there was political interference in the case.

Other scandals

In 2011, an SNC employee whose job was to facilitate travel of SNC employees in and out of Libya was arrested in Mexico and accused of attempting to smuggle Gadhafi’s son and family out of the country. The employee was eventually released from jail and not charged in Canada.

In Switzerland, an ex-senior employee from SNC-Lavalin pleaded guilty to fraud, corruption and money laundering in relation to his business in Libya in 2014 — before the RCMP charges. Riadh Ben Aissa acknowledged in court that he bribed Saadi Gadhafi, son of Libya’s late dictator Moammar Gadhafi, so SNC could win contracts.

The company was also banned from bidding on projects by the World Bank for 10 years over alleged misconduct during a bridge construction contract in Panama. During an investigation from CBC and the Globe and Mail, it was alleged there was an internal accounting code for bribes. Officials were charged with fraud, but they were acquitted after a judge threw out wiretap evidence.

Closer to home, three top executives were also charged with bribery in relation to the McGill University Health Centre. Former CEO Pierre Duhaime, along with McGill officials, pleaded guilty in the case.

FROM THE ARCHIVE: SNC-Lavalin to reimburse municipalities, agencies in 2016


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