Former executives of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. were prepared to go to great lengths to curry favour with the son of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, including agreeing to buy him a Bombardier luxury jet and an even bigger yacht than the one SNC had already paid for, evidence in the company’s criminal case suggests.
The new details are contained in transcripts of witness testimony made during the preliminary hearing in the criminal case against the Canadian engineering giant and two of its subsidiaries. Contents of the documents, first reported by La Presse and two other media outlets, were previously under a court-ordered publication ban but can now be made public after the plea deal between the company and federal prosecutors.
The Quebec Court on Wednesday approved the negotiated agreement, putting an end to the corruption saga that has dogged the company for nearly a decade. SNC’s construction unit pleaded guilty to one count of fraud and will pay a $280-million fine while more serious charges against the parent company and two subsidiaries on bribery were dropped.
In all, SNC spent $47.7-million on cash, gifts and personal expenses given to Saadi Gadhafi between 2001 and 2011, according to the statement of facts agreed to between the company and prosecutors as part of the plea deal. In return, SNC benefited from his influence to secure contracts worth roughly $2-billion in Libya.
SNC paid for several things, including “security services, hotels, training, private parties and entertainment” during two trips the younger Mr. Gadhafi made to Canada in 2008 and 2009, according to the plea deal. The company even paid to decorate Mr. Gadhafi’s condo in Toronto.
SNC booked the expenses as attributable to construction projects in Libya, part of a larger scheme to inflate the price tag for contracts and therefore defraud the Libyan people, according to the plea agreement.
Stéphane Roy, a former controller at SNC-Lavalin, painted a picture of SNC’s doting on Mr. Gadhafi during one visit to Canada. “Saadi and his entourage would go to a restaurant on Saturday night with no credit cards and no cash, nothing to pay with,” he testified. “And they’d leave the place and I’d receive a panicked call [from another SNC executive] telling me ‘Deal with that. Pay, pay, pay.’ ”
Mr. Roy could not be reached for comment.
During one visit by Mr. Gadhafi to Montreal in 2008, SNC-Lavalin’s senior leadership and staff tried to organize instruction for him on several different subjects, Mr. Roy said in testimony. Mr. Roy was charged with bribery and fraud in relation to the affair but his case was dismissed earlier this year because of unreasonable delays.
Former Quebec premier Philippe Couillard, the province’s health minister at the time, confirmed in an interview with Le Devoir Thursday that he was tapped to give Mr. Gadhafi one such lesson, on Quebec’s health-care system. He abandoned the effort after 20 minutes when he realized the young man wasn’t interested, Mr. Couillard said.
“I wasn’t paid,” Mr. Couillard told Le Devoir, saying the context at the time was one in which SNC-Lavalin was expanding internationally and the Gadhafi family had good relations with Canada. “I saw it as a way to participate in the education of a person who wanted to modernize his country.”
Riadh Ben Aissa, SNC’s former point man in Libya, who pleaded guilty to corruption-related charges in Switzerland in 2014, testified in SNC’s criminal case that Mr. Gadhafi wasn’t satisfied with the yacht he received as compensation for a $1-billion contract win and wanted a bigger one. So a larger boat worth about $35-million was purchased and Mr. Ben Aissa made the first payments on it before the boat builder seized the boat in the wake of the 2011 Libyan uprising, according to his testimony.
That uprising also put an end to another of Mr. Gadhafi’s wishes, according to Mr. Ben Aissa. The dictator’s son told him he wanted SNC to buy him a Bombardier private jet as a gift for winning a contract to build a new airport in Libya, Mr. Ben Aissa testified.
Mr. Ben Aissa said he spoke to Pierre Duhaime, SNC-Lavalin’s chief executive at the time. “I told him we’re going to have to get ready to buy a plane… He had no problem with that. He just told me ‘We’ll wait until the [airport] contract is signed.' ’’
In an interview with The Globe, Mr. Duhaime denied approving the jet and said he received no such request.
Mr. Duhaime, who left SNC in 2012, was sentenced to 20 months of house arrest earlier this year for his role in a bid-rigging case involving a McGill University Health Centre super-hospital project. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing in connection with SNC-Lavalin’s corporate criminal case.
Jacques Lamarre, Mr. Duhaime’s predecessor as CEO, has also been named in testimony by Mr. Ben Aissa as having approved the smaller yacht. Mr. Lamarre has denied the allegations in media interviews and has not been charged with any crime.
While the testimony heard in the preliminary hearing was sufficient to convince a judge to send the case to trial, it was never tested at trial beyond a reasonable doubt.