Trudeau says report his office pressed former justice minister to drop SNC-Lavalin prosecution ‘false’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says a report by the Globe and Mail that his office tried to get the former justice minister to prevent a trial of SNC-Lavalin is “false.”

But he refused to give clear answers when pressed by reporters on whether he or his office tried to “influence” the prosecution of the case more broadly.

“The allegations in the Globe story this morning are false,” Trudeau told reporters when asked about the allegations.

“Neither the current nor the previous attorney general was ever directed by me nor anyone in my office to take a decision in this matter.”

Reporters noted that the questions raised in the article are not only about “directing” action.

“Not necessarily direct, prime minister. Was there any sort of influence whatsoever,” one reporter asked.

Trudeau responded by saying again that “at no time did we direct the attorney general, current or previous, to take any decision whatsoever in this matter.”

According to the report by The Globe and Mail, published Thursday morning, Trudeau’s office asked former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene and ask federal prosecutors to cut a deal to help the Montreal engineering firm avoid an expensive trial over the corruption and fraud charges it faces over alleged bribes paid to Libyan officials between 2001 and 2011.

SNC Lavalin reportedly lobbied federal officials to let it admit wrongdoing and pay a fine instead under a process known as a “deferred prosecution agreement” or “remediation agreement.”

Listings on the website of the federal lobbying commissioner show multiple reports of lobbying filed by Neil Bruce, president and CEO of SNC-Lavalin, over recent months of senior advisors in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Those listings report the lobbying as on “justice and law enforcement” but do not mention specifics.

Because of that, it is not yet possible to verify the report from the Globe and Mail that those communications may have been about any potential deferred prosecution agreement.

Federal prosecutors, the report states, refused to negotiate and as a result, the Prime Minister’s Office put pressure on Wilson-Raybould to intervene and persuade them to change their minds on cutting a deal.

Wilson-Raybould, the Globe’s sources suggested, believed doing so would constitute political interference and did not want to get involved.

She was booted from the high-profile portfolio last month and is now Minister of Veterans Affairs.

In an unusual public letter issued after she was shuffled, Wilson-Raybould stressed the need for the justice system to remain free of the perception of interference but did not comment on the specifics of why she wanted to make that point.

“It is a pillar of our democracy that our system of justice be free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence,” she said in the letter.

“As such, it has always been my view that the attorney-general of Canada must be non-partisan, more transparent in the principles that are the basis of decisions, and, in this respect, always willing to speak truth to power. This is how I served throughout my tenure in that role.”

Wilson-Raybould did not deny the allegations in the Globe report but was quoted as saying she could not comment on the matter.

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