At the heart of the corporate corruption case that has battered SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. for more than a year is missing money – tens of millions of dollars that have disappeared in exotic locations like Swiss bank accounts, Caribbean mailbox companies and the company’s Tunisian office.
But in the latest chapter of the affair, the RCMP believes it has found some of that fortune in a number of places only a short drive from the engineering firm’s head offices in Montreal: a condominium development, a house that overlooks a leafy park and a red-brick suburban home worth nearly a million dollars.
Sami Bebawi, a former senior SNC executive who headed up the construction division until 2006, allegedly defrauded the company of nearly $24-million and then sunk part of that money into Canadian bank accounts, homes for two of his children and a condominium project built by his architect son’s development company, the Mounties have alleged in a recently unsealed sworn statement.
The affidavit, which was sworn by Corporal Alexandre Beaulieu of the RCMP’s National Division, was filed in Quebec court in support of 10 judicial orders that were used to freeze some of the assets of Mr. Bebawi and his children. The police allege the assets are the proceeds of crime. They include four bank accounts holding a total of about $1.7-million, and six properties – five in Montreal and a condominium in Florida – worth a total of about $3.5-million. They cannot be sold or transferred until the RCMP investigation is concluded or a judge overturns the orders.
Mr. Bebawi, who now resides in the Middle East, has not been charged with any crime and the allegations contained in the affidavit have not been tested in a court of law. In a statement, Mr. Bebawi’s criminal lawyer Scott Hutchison said: “It is not easy for someone in Mr. Bebawi’s position to be in the spotlight, under suspicion and without a legal forum in which to respond. Everyone who is judging Mr. Bebawi and others should remember that they are real people with families, and that their reputations and lives are affected by this kind of attention.”
Since the engineering giant was engulfed in scandal, it has placed much of the blame on Riadh Ben Aissa, SNC’s executive vice-president in charge of construction from 2007 to 2011. Mr. Ben Aissa is currently in jail in Switzerland, where he has been accused of using that country’s secretive banking system to funnel tens of millions of dollars to leaders in North Africa to obtain construction contracts, and keeping an alleged $50-million of those alleged bribe payments for himself. (He is also wanted in Canada in connection with an alleged $22.5-million bribe paid to secure a contract for SNC to construct Montreal’s new English-speaking hospital complex.)
But the RCMP’s latest front in the investigation is Mr. Bebawi, who oversaw Mr. Ben Aissa at SNC from 1999 to 2006.
According to Mr. Beaulieu’s affidavit, Mr. Ben Aissa conspired to bribe public officials, such as the son of the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and to kick back a portion of the bribery funds to both Mr. Bebawi and himself.
Instrumental to all of this, both the RCMP and Swiss prosecutors allege, was a mysterious company, incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, called Duvel Securities. From 2001 to 2011, SNC transferred about $118-million to Duvel, ostensibly because the Caribbean-based company was supposed to be helping the engineering firm secure dozens of contracts in Libya. In reality, the Mounties allege, Mr. Ben Aissa controlled the company, which Cpl. Beaulieu contends has never conducted “real business activities, much less activities on behalf of SNC-Lavalin in relation to projects in Libya.”
Duvel was used to send money to Saadi Gadhafi, the late dictator’s third-born son, and to Swiss accounts held by Mr. Ben Aissa and Mr. Bebawi, Cpl. Beaulieu alleges in his affidavit. (When the RCMP interviewed senior executives from SNC, several acknowledged that there were almost no controls within the company to verify who was really behind Duvel, the affidavit alleges. One current executive who approved payments to Duvel, Michael Novak, told investigators that he never met the man who appeared to be the principal signatory for Duvel, a Swiss lawyer named Roland Kaufmann, the affidavit states.)
Once those millions of dollars were transferred to Canadian accounts controlled by Mr. Bebawi, he used a large portion of the money to purchase real estate for his children, the RCMP alleges. Mr. Bebawi’s son-in-law, Shafik Mina, and Mr. Bebawi’s son Rami Bebawi are the principals of a 78-unit Montreal condominium project known as the Irene Lofts. But the RCMP allege that the $2.4-million used to buy the former warehouse was originally stolen from SNC-Lavalin by Mr. Bebawi – and in his affidavit, Cpl. Beaulieu details how the money flowed from Switzerland to a CIBC trust account and into the seller’s hands. All in all, the RCMP alleges that the elder Bebawi “laundered” $13.7-million through the corporation behind the condominium development. Rami Bebawi did not respond to a request for comment.
The profits from the sale of the condo units are also proceeds of crime, Cpl. Beaulieu alleges, and the two units that have yet to be sold are also frozen by court order.
The other frozen properties include a $915,000 home near the suburb of Saint-Lambert that is registered to Mr. Bebawi’s son Adam. A condominium unit on Saint-Maurice Street registered to Mr. Bebawi’s daughter, Nadine Bebawi, also cannot be sold or transferred under court order. Reached by phone on Wednesday, Ms. Bebawi, a notary, said: “I’m sorry to tell you that you won’t have any comments.”
Depending on how the criminal investigation unfolds, the assets could be seized and sold by the federal government under proceeds of crime legislation.