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Former SNC executive Riadh Ben Aissa arrested in Switzerland

An early photo of Riadh Ben Aissa.

SNC-Lavalin

Riadh Ben Aissa, the former head of global construction for Canadian firm SNC-Lavalin, is in police custody in Switzerland.

Reports out of Switzerland indicate Mr. Ben Aissa was arrested a few days ago. It's not clear what charges Mr. Ben Aissa is facing but he is under investigation by the RCMP in Canada over allegations stemming from a scandal at SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. where he headed the company's global construction operations.

Jacqueline Buhlmann, a spokeswoman for the Swiss Public Ministry, confirmed that Mr. Ben Aissa had been arrested as part of an investigation that began in May 2011 into corruption, fraud and money laundering in North Africa. Ms. Buhlmann added that the agency asked for help from Canadian police in mid April. That coincides roughly with a raid by the RCMP on SNC-Lavalin's head office. She declined further comment.

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RCMP spokesman Sgt. Marc Ménard would confirm only that the police force's Ottawa-based A-division, which handles international corruption investigations, had "received a request for assistance" in the case of Mr. Ben Aissa.

"This is an ongoing investigation and we're not going to answer any more questions or make any comments on the specific details." Sgt. Ménard said.

Mr. Ben Aissa was forced out of the Montreal-based company in February amid allegations he made $56-million in improper payments to unknown commercial agents. The company has said it has no idea where the money went. Mr. Ben Aissa has denied any wrongdoing. A source familiar with the company's investigation has said some of the payments went through banks in Switzerland and the Middle East.

Originally from Tunisia, Mr. Ben Aissa joined SNC in 1985 and rose quickly through the ranks, becoming an executive vice-president and running all of the company's construction operations worldwide. He worked largely out of Tunisia and also oversaw the company's extensive operations in Libya where he developed a close relationship with the sons of former dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

He also oversaw SNC's Libyan unit, where he developed a close relationship with two of Mr. Gadhafi's sons, Saadi and Saif.

(More to come)

Editor's note: An earlier version of this web story contained an incorrect spelling of Jacqueline Buhlmann's name.

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About the Authors
European Correspondent

Paul Waldie has been an award-winning journalist with The Globe and Mail for more than 10 years. He has won three National Newspaper Awards for business coverage and been nominated for a Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism. He has also won a Sports Media Canada award for sports writing and authored a best-selling biography of the McCain family. More

National Business Correspondent

Barrie McKenna is correspondent and columnist in The Globe and Mail's Ottawa bureau. From 1997 until 2010, he covered Washington from The Globe's bureau in the U.S. capital. During his U.S. posting, he traveled widely, filing stories from more than 30 states. Mr. McKenna has also been a frequent visitor to Japan and South Korea on reporting assignments. More

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