Defence goes after key witness’ credibility in SNC-Lavalin corruption trial
Counsel for former SNC-Lavalin vice-president Sami Bebawi, on trial for charges related to business dealings in Libya, attempted to poke holes in the Crown’s star witness’s story about events involving the now-failed North African state and its deceased dictator.
Bebawi has pleaded not guilty to eight charges including fraud, corruption, money laundering, and bribery of foreign officials, including notorious Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and his playboy son Saadi.
After inking a multimillion-dollar contract with Libya in 2007, then-SNC-Lavalin executive Riadh Ben Aissa toured a luxury boat show in Cannes, France with North African dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saadi, a Quebec Superior Court jury heard on Monday.
Ben Aissa is the Crown’s star witness in the bribery and corruption trial of former SNC-Lavalin executive vice-president Sami Bebawi.
According to Ben Aissa, after returning to Libya he was contacted by the elder Gaddafi’s people about Saadi’s desire for a 150-foot, $25 million yacht that SNC-Lavalin eventually contracted an American company to build.
On the first day of the trial on October 31, Crown Prosecutor Anne-Marie Manoukian told jurors the trial “is a case of international fraud and corruption” and alleged that paying bribes to Libyan officials “became the business model” for SNC-Lavalin in what’s now a failed state.
The Crown’s case is built on business relationships that SNC-Lavalin allegedly cultivated with Saadi and Muammar Gaddafi involving million-dollar bribes and kickbacks to maintain a pipeline of valuable contracts for the Québec-based engineering firm.
The Crown also alleges that Bebawi orchestrated the arrangement and benefitted personally to the tune of $26 million.
On Monday, the court also heard from Ben Aissa that when SNC-Lavalin started to suffer financially on a project for the Gaddafi regime, Bebawi leaned on him to recoup the cash in any way possible.
Ben Aissa testified that 50 percent of this money was funnelled to Duval Securities Inc. that he registered in the British Virgin Islands, then divvied up between the players, including Gaddafi.
The Crown said it intends to prove that SNC-Lavalin ultimately transferred more than $113 million to this offshore company.
Bebawi has pleaded not guilty to eight charges including fraud, corruption, money laundering, and bribery of foreign officials. The trial continues in Montreal and is expected to last six weeks.
Charges against Bebawi are related, but separate from concurrent legal proceedings against the firm itself, which opted for trial by judge in June of this year in a case that has yet to see a courtroom.
SNC-Lavalin’s alleged bribery and corruption crimes and the company’s attempt to get a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) went all the way to the Prime Minister’s Office, a February Globe and Mail story revealed.
The charges and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s attempt to pressure ex-attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould into diverting criminal proceedings against SNC-Lavalin to remediation, sparked the biggest scandal the PM weathered during his first government.
In 2012, the Swiss arrested Ben Aissa, who spent two years imprisoned there before pleading guilty to money laundering. This cleared the way for extradition to Canada where he cut a plea deal last summer and was sentenced to 51 months in prison for forging documents.
Back in February, the case against a second SNC-Lavalin executive Stéphane Roy, was thrown out of court on grounds it had taken too long to come to trial. The court rejected Bebawi’s attempt to have his case tossed on similar grounds.
UPDATE: During his testimony Tuesday, Ben Aissa told jurors that while incarcerated in Switzerland, he was contacted by Bebawi’s lawyers and offered $10 million to soften up and corroborate eventual testimony. Ben Aissa said he refused and reported the overture to Canadian authorities.
Stocks for the scandal-ridden Quebec-based engineering and construction company SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. surged by nearly 15 percent on the morning after Justin Trudeau’s re-election to a Liberal minority government.
Currently, SNC-Lavalin is facing corruption charges for bribing officials while conducting business in Libya, including bribes to the son of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
The company was at the heart of an election interference scandal that plagued the Trudeau government and resulted in the ejection of former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and MP Jane Philpott from the Liberal caucus.
Wilson-Raybould has since been re-elected as an independent candidate for Vancouver Granville.
Trudeau was eventually found to have broken the law and had attempted to politically interfere in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin by the ethics commissioner.
Prior to Trudeau’s re-election, SNC-Lavalin stocks had faced a downturn, falling more than 60 percent over the last year.
During tonight’s English Leaders’ Debate, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was asked which leader he wanted to ask a question of. He quickly pivoted toward Justin Trudeau eliciting laughter from the audience. He then asked Trudeau about the SNC-Lavalin affair: “When did you decide that the rules don’t apply to you?”
Scheer reminded Trudeau that it had been determined that he acted inappropriately in pressuring then-Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to pursue a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin. Scheer said, “You looked Canadians in the eye and told Canadians that the allegations in the Globe and Mail were false.”
Trudeau responded, “They were false” despite the findings of the Ethics Commissioner confirming the Globe and Mail‘s report that he and his government acted inappropriately.
Former Liberal party member, Jody Wilson-Raybould, said that she is “extremely disappointed” with the party and the Prime Minister after seeing Justin Trudeau dressed in brownface.
Wilson-Raybould was recently kicked out of the party. She was one of the casualties of the still-relevant SLC-Lavalin scandal, when she tried to resist the Prime Minister’s attempt to compromise her impartiality while she occupied the position of Attorney General.
“It’s awful,” Wilson-Raybould told reporters on Wednesday. “When I first saw it, I didn’t think it was real.”
The image in question shows a 29-year-old Trudeau at a high school “Arabian Nights” event, decked out in Arabic attire and wearing brown-black makeup on his face and hands.
“But I will say I’m incredibly proud to be an Indigenous person in this country, one that has experienced racism and discrimination.” Wilson-Raybould continued, “It’s completely unacceptable for anybody in a position of authority and power to do something like that.”
Wilson-Raybould is only one of many who are “extremely disappointed” over the brownface scandal.
Jane Philpott, a former health minister who also had to be removed from Trudeau’s caucus during SNC-Lavalin scandal, also voiced her condemnation of the disgraced Prime Minister.
Both are now running as independent candidates.