A former senior SNC-Lavalin executive was found guilty Sunday of fraud and corruption charges related to the engineering company’s close ties with the regime of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
After three days of deliberation, a Quebec Superior Court jury delivered guilty verdicts on all five counts facing Sami Bébawi, which included fraud, corruption of foreign officials and laundering proceeds of crime.
Bébawi, 73, had served as the head of SNC-Lavalin’s international construction division. He was portrayed by federal Crown prosecutors as a key figure in an elaborate scheme to bribe Libyan officials.
The Crown alleged that SNC-Lavalin transferred about $113 million to a shell company beginning in the late 1990s and ending with the fall of the Gadhafi regime in 2011.
According to the Crown’s star witness, Riadh Ben Aissa, another former SNC-Lavalin executive, the money was intended mainly for Gadhafi’s son, Saadi.
Ben Aissa admitted to setting up the shell company in order to reward Saadi Gadhafi for helping SNC-Lavalin secure lucrative construction projects. Between 2001 and 2011, SNC-Lavalin won contracts in Libya totalling at least $1.85 billion.
The payments to Saadi Gadhafi, Ben Aissa said, included a $25-million yacht and lavish trips to Canada.
Jurors were shown a photograph of Saadi Gadhafi at SNC Lavalin’s headquarters in Montreal, alongside the company’s then president, Jacques Lamarre.
Sentencing arguments this week
Ben Aissa, who was arrested in 2012 and served two years in a Swiss jail before pleading guilty to bribing Libyan officials, said his activities in Libya had been approved by Bébawi, his superior.
The pair agreed to split whatever cash was left in the shell company’s accounts after paying off the dictator’s son, Ben Aissa said in testimony last month.
The trial also heard evidence, gathered in part through an RCMP sting operation, that Bébawi offered Ben Aissa $10 million while he was in the Swiss jail.
Ben Aissa said the money was offered in exchange for testimony corroborating Bébawi’s account given to Swiss authorities.
On Sunday, Crown prosecutor Anne-Marie Manoukian thanked the jurors for listening carefully to the testimony and sifting through the 300 exhibits that were entered into evidence during the six-week trial.
“They took their job very seriously,” Manoukian said.
Bébawi, who has been out on bail since his arrest in 2014, was released pending his sentencing. Hearings will begin Thursday. Manoukian wouldn’t say how long a sentence the Crown is seeking.
Lawyers for Bébawi did not speak with reporters following the verdict.
What about the charges against SNC-Lavalin
The interactions between SNC representatives and Saadi Gadhafi are also at the centre of federal charges against the company.
It’s alleged SNC-Lavalin paid around $48 million in bribes to Libyan officials between 2001 and 2011, a violation of the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act.
Federal prosecutors also claim SNC-Lavalin defrauded a number of Libyan institutions out of $130 million over the same period.
SNC-Lavalin lobbied federal government officials in the hopes of securing a deal, known as a deferred prosecution agreement, that would have allowed it to avoid a trial on these charges, in exchange for paying a fine.
Those efforts have so far proved unsuccessful, but resulted in controversy for the federal Liberals.
An Ethics Commissioner’s report concluded that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated ethics laws as he tried to convince his then-justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to reverse her decision to not grant the agreement.
Wilson-Raybould eventually quit cabinet, and the party, over the matter. She was re-elected as independent in the last election.
Manoukian — who was accompanied Sunday by Richard Roy, lead prosecutor in the SNC-Lavalin case — refused to comment on possible implications of the Bébawi verdict.
“The message generally is that Canada takes seriously its obligations toward all offences committed and we will prosecute them as the cases come to be,” Manoukian said.
SNC-Lavalin issued a brief statement on Sunday, saying it is “focused on its business and delivering results, and will not comment on past or pending court proceedings.”