A former SNC-Lavalin executive thought to be the architect of a vast international bribery scheme has reached a deal in Switzerland on charges of money laundering, fraud and corruption, possibly speeding his extradition to Canada where he is wanted for corruption.
A spokeswoman for Switzerland’s Attorney-General confirmed to The Canadian Press on Monday that Riadh Ben Aissa signed a deal with prosecutors on Aug. 4. The RCMP, which have worked in conjunction with the Swiss, have alleged in an affidavit that Mr. Ben Aissa funnelled an estimated $160-million in corrupt payments from SNC to Saadi Gadhafi, the son of the late Libyan dictator, and other officials in North Africa in exchange for billions in engineering contracts.
The former vice-president of construction for the Montreal-based company, Mr. Ben Aissa is also alleged to have been part of a failed plan to smuggle Saadi Gadhafi to Mexico.
A hearing is scheduled for October when a Swiss court will rule on the deal. Mr. Ben Aissa could be released from Swiss custody in April, 2015. He’s been held in Switzerland since his arrest in early 2012.
Canadian authorities sought Mr. Ben Aissa’s extradition in January for his part in a $22.5-million bribery scheme with the former head of the McGill University Health Centre, Arthur Porter.
As part of Quebec’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign, Mr. Ben Aissa is alleged to have been at the centre of what police investigators have called “the biggest corruption fraud in the history of Canada.” Mr. Ben Aissa is alleged to have transferred millions to Mr. Porter to ensure that SNC-Lavalin would win a $1.3-billion public contract to build a new McGill superhospital in Montreal’s west end.
Mr. Ben Aissa’s lawyer in Canada, Michael Edelson, would not comment about the agreement, “as my client’s matter in Switzerland has not been concluded,” he wrote.
If the plea is accepted, SNC-Lavalin could recoup millions of dollars seized by Swiss authorities. A spokeswoman for the engineering company, long working to rebuild a tarnished image, said Monday that SNC-Lavalin was “looking forward to putting these issues behind us.”
In Canadian court filings earlier this summer, Mr. Ben Aissa claimed he had been used as a scapegoat and that his use of SNC-Lavalin’s funds only continued the company’s “strong and long-standing relationship with Saadi Gadhafi.”
Mr. Ben Aissa and Mr. Gadhafi had built a close bond in Libya. Through the Libyan Corps of Engineers, the two had created a joint venture in 2008 headed by Mr. Gadhafi. The corps was a wing of the Libyan military that received funding from the defence budget but focused on large civil engineering projects.
SNC-Lavalin built a lucrative portfolio before the Libyan Civil War started in February, 2011. The company had spearheaded the construction of an airport in Benghazi, the world’s largest irrigation project, dubbed the Great Man-Made River, and a $275-million prison outside Tripoli.
Switzerland, like Canada, is a signatory to an international convention prohibiting the bribing of foreign leaders. With the abuse of Switzerland’s famous banking secrecy to violate those conventions, the country has taken steps to crack down on bribery facilitated by funds in the Swiss financial system.
With a report from Greg McArthur