Police have searched the Montreal home of a former executive who ran SNC-Lavalin’s international construction division, extending a probe of foreign bribery allegations to include an earlier era of the firm’s leadership.
The Globe and Mail has learned that Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigators executed a search warrant in early February at the home of Sami Bebawi, a former senior executive of SNC who oversaw the construction and engineering giant’s rapid growth in North Africa and the Middle East from 1998 until his departure in 2006.
The search warrant represents a new front in the probe, which so far has resulted in the incarceration of a former senior vice-president, more than a dozen criminal charges against the company’s former chief executive and class-action lawsuits in two provinces.
Most of the company’s recent troubles revolve around the conduct of company officials under former CEO Pierre Duhaime, who took over the company in 2009. But the search of Mr. Bebawi’s home suggests that investigators are reaching back to a different era at SNC under the leadership of former chief executive Jacques Lamarre.
Mr. Bebawi has declined to respond to several requests for comment over the past year. Requests for comment placed with his criminal lawyer were also not answered. returned. Mr. Bebawi has not been charged with any crime.
Since the bribery scandal erupted at SNC, the company has largely laid the blame at the feet of Riadh Ben Aissa, the Tunisian-Canadian who ran its international construction division from 2007 until he left about a year ago. He has since been jailed in Switzerland, a precautionary detention that prosecutors there obtained while they pore over banking records that allegedly show SNC funnelled an estimated $160-million to Saadi Gadhafi – the son of the late Libyan dictator – in an effort to win infrastructure contracts.
But before Mr. Ben Aissa took the helm of the blue-chip firm’s construction division, Mr. Bebawi launched a concerted campaign to win contracts for the company in countries – including Algeria, Libya and the Dominican Republic – with reputations for corruption. In 1999, after the company opened its first Cairo office, Mr. Bebawi and Mr. Lamarre embarked on a four-country tour of the Middle East and North Africa promoting SNC. In a commemorative coffee-table book that SNC created to mark its 100th anniversary, the company credited Mr. Bebawi with transforming his division “from a money loser to the group’s third most profitable operating unit.”
The documents that outline the grounds for the RCMP search of Mr. Bebawi’s home are sealed by court order. A documentary by Enquête, Radio-Canada’s investigative news show, scheduled to be broadcast on Thursday, will detail how Swiss investigators questioned Mr. Bebawi as part of their probe. A previously unsealed affidavit, which the RCMP used to obtain a warrant to search SNC’s headquarters last year, also said a Libyan project that Mr. Bebawi was involved with – a plan to pump water out of deep desert aquifers known as the Great Man Made River – was part of an investigation by the authorities.
While Mr. Bebawi was at SNC, the company also secured numerous contracts with Algeria’s state-owned oil company, Sonatrach. A review of SNC press releases over the past decade shows that the company received about $6-billion worth of business from Algeria. Investigators in Switzerland are looking into allegations that multiple oil and gas service companies, including SNC, used an alleged bribe facilitator named Farid Bedjaoui to secure deals with Sonatrach. The company has acknowledged that it paid several companies “involved” with Mr. Bedjaoui but has declined to say how many or how much.
Since 1999, it has been illegal in Canada to pay bribes to a foreign government or public official in an effort secure business. In February, Foreign Minister John Baird announced that the government was introducing reforms in the Senate to strengthen Canada’s foreign bribery laws, including a provision that would make it illegal for a company to book or record bribes as some other form of legitimate payment.