SNC-Lavalin at Center of Corruption Scheme Involving Jacques Cartier Bridge

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Montreal-based construction and engineering giant SNC-Lavalin is at the center of another Canadian kickback scheme, this time in connection with the $125-million restoration of the Jacques Cartier Bridge.

Michel Fournier served as the head of the Federal Bridge Corporation — the federal agency in charge of managing five major bridges in Ontario and Quebec — when it awarded SNC-Lavalin with a $125-million contract to re-deck the Jacques Cartier Bridge. Two years later, a Radio-Canada investigation traced $1.5 million of regular payments from Promotag, a commercial agent with close ties to SNC-Lavalin, to a Swiss bank account owned by Fournier. When confronted about the payments, Fournier admitted to having the Swiss bank account, but claimed he opened it for his now deceased sister-in-law to conceal money from a divorce settlement.

Last year, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police accused an SNC-Lavalin executive of disguising $160 million in bribes as consulting fees to Saadi Gaddafi, the playboy son of deposed dictator Col. Muammar Gaddafi. In turn, the executive claimed that other senior executives had a long history of lobbying the Gadhafi regime, including putting the wife of a Gadhafi son on its payroll during Libya's 2011 civil war, despite UN economic sanctions and Western military intervention.

Arthur Porter — former head of Canada's Security Intelligence Review Committee — also stands accused of accepting bribes from SNC-Lavalin in connection with a kickback scheme to defraud the McGill University Health Centre. Porter was instrumental in helping SNC-Lavalin secure a $1.3-billion contract to build a new English hospital in Montreal in 2010. Investigators have alleged that SNC-Lavalin's 2009 transfer of $22.5 million to a company in the Bahamas called Sierra Asset Management served to disguise bribes paid to Dr. Porter and other hospital officials.

SNC-Lavalin has claimed that corruption is not a problem within the company as a whole and that the recent allegations are simply the misdeeds of a few individuals no longer with the company. However, past whistleblower complaints and statements from former executives charged with corruption indicate that bribery and corruption was systemic and well-known, and became woven into SNC-Lavalin's corporate culture.

While bribe payments used to be legal and tax-deductible as a legitimate business expense, things are now dramatically different. The last ten years have seen the Canadian government — and others around the world — increase its efforts to combat corruption. Furthermore, in 2013 the Canadian parliament amended the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act (CFPOA) to provide for stiffer penalties and to strengthen the government's ability to enforce the law.

Canada's crackdown on global corruption makes it vital for organizations to implement and maintain a comprehensive anti-corruption compliance program. This requires that employees understand not only the laws against corruption, but their role in compliance.

Topics:  Canada, Corruption, Kickbacks

Published In: Construction Updates, Government Contracting Updates, International Trade Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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