Quebec police working with DCPC to lay charges on SNC-Lavalin
New court documents obtained by La Presse show that, in an investigation called Agrafe 2, the RCMP met with some 30 witnesses and seized 3200 exhibits in connection with the bribing of former Federal Bridge Corporation CEO.
According to the RCMP, the bribery scheme was aimed at obtaining a contract to repair the Jacques Cartier Bridge in the early 2000s.
Former CEO Michel Fournier admitted to receiving $2.35 million illegally and was sentenced to five years in prison. The corruption has been condemned, but the investigation continues on, looking for those who may have been apart of the corruption.
There were so many computerized documents to be scanned at SNC-Lavalin, the RCMP’s search lasted almost three months: from March 23 to June 14, according to the court record.
The press revealed that at the beginning of this search last May. “I have reasonable grounds to believe that between 2000 and 2003, SNC-Lavalin committed the following offense: Four counts of fraud against the government,” wrote Corporal Guy-Michel Nkili in a statement.
New supporting documents in the court records show that the police are working with the DPCP (Directeur des poursuites criminelles et pénales), not the federal Crown, to lay charges against the Quebec engineering firm.
The DPCP has not yet authorized the charges in this case.
In December, though, Attorney Patrice Peltier-Rivest told the court that he had sent his detailed instructions to the police to prepare the evidence for a criminal trial that could be held within a reasonable time.
The prosecutor has asked that the RCMP retain the seized documents until June in order to complete his preparations for the indictment. The request has been granted. “[The RCMP] is continuing its investigation, which is still ongoing, requiring the allocation of significant resources,” says Peltier-Rivest.
The laying of charges by Quebec prosecutors would change the situation for SNC-Lavalin. Following a previous RCMP investigation, federal Crown prosecutors had already laid charges against the company in 2015 for bribery in Libya. The trial should begin within a year.
SNC-Lavalin is attempting at all costs to obtain an amicable agreement called a “suspended prosecution agreement” (PSA) with the government in this matter. An APS would suspend criminal prosecution against the company in the Libyan case.
In exchange, SNC-Lavalin would have to acknowledge its wrongs, pay a fine, prove that it has done an internal cleaning and accept the presence of an external supervisor in its affairs. The case continued to make headlines across Canada last week.
The Globe and Mail wrote that Prime Minister Trudeau’s office had pressured former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to ask federal prosecutors to enter into such an agreement. Mr. Trudeau denied any pressure, but the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner of Canada opened an investigation.
Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has since stepped down from her position.
Lobbyists from the company reportedly had about 50 meetings with federal officials or elected officials on the subject. SNC-Lavalin has even recruited former Supreme Court Justice Frank Lacobucci to seek an agreement with federal Crown prosecutors.
Chief Prosecutor Kathleen Roussel refused to suspend the charges. SNC-Lavalin is currently challenging this refusal in the Federal Court in Montreal.
Canada’s new Minister of Justice David Lametti pointed out that it was still possible that, as Attorney General of Canada, he could issue a directive to federal prosecutors to have the matter settled amicably. The law would require him to do so publicly by issuing an official notice on the subject.
“It’s in law, but I do not comment on it,” he said. But even if the efforts of the company were successful, the possible filing of charges by the DPCP in Quebec would force it to resume the process from scratch and to try to obtain a new agreement to suspend the charges, this time to Quebec.
“For a suspended prosecution agreement, the definition of prosecutor is not limited. It’s an agreement with the prosecutor, it may be the Attorney General of the province or the Attorney General of Canada, both of them are possible. And when the Attorney General does not intervene, which is the norm, the agreement is with the Crown Attorneys, “says Jennifer Quaid, a professor of criminal law at the University of Ottawa.
“This is certainly a question that could arise for the Quebec government and one might ask if there could also be political pressure at the provincial level.”
Quebec Premier François Legault has already urged Ottawa to allow SNC-Lavalin to settle its case quickly, in accordance with the law.
“If the file dragged on for years and [we] lose jobs and a head office, I think that all Canadians are losers,” he told Le Devoir newspaper last Friday.
The spokesperson for the DPCP and his attorney for SNC-Lavalin declined to comment when contacted by La Presse. The company has an active mandate on the Quebec Registry of Lobbyists to discuss with the Department of Justice the reimbursement program for businesses that have collected overpayments from the government in various ways.
At the time of this publication, SNC-Lavalin had not responded to a request for comment from La Presse.