A health care executive who Prime Minister Stephen Harper once appointed to oversee the national spy agency is now a wanted man.
Quebec’s anti-corruption squad issued arrest warrants Wednesday for Dr. Arthur Porter and four other men embroiled in allegations of fraud swirling around the McGill University Health Centre, Montreal’s English-language hospital network.
Dr. Porter, the former head of the MUHC who sat on the Security Intelligence Review Committee from 2008 to 2011, and Yanai Elbaz, the MUHC’s director of redevelopment, face charges of committing fraud against the government, accepting bribes, and conspiracy.
Two high-profile former executives of Canadian engineering giant SNC-Lavalin, former CEO Pierre Duhaime and former construction head Riadh Ben Aïssa, are charged with fraud, conspiracy and paying bribes.
Dr. Porter was MUHC's head and the chief negotiator on the $1.3-billion contract granted to SNC-Lavalin in 2010 to build a massive new hospital for the network. Dr. Porter oversaw and managed the MUHC for seven years.
Dr. Porter said he was "surprised and angered" by news of the warrant for his arrest.
"Whilst I am certain there is no basis in fact, I have yet to see any documentation," Dr. Porter said in an emailed statement. "Since I left Montreal in 2011, I have been subjected to scurrilous and scandalous allegations in the media."
Dr. Porter said he has never been contacted by Canadian authorities about the allegations. "When I am provided with official information, it will be reviewed and appropriate action will be taken."
Claudio Bussandri, chairman of MUHC, said he is angered and saddened by the allegations and that the MUHC is considering legal action.
“The authorities have made it clear that no current employee or the institution itself are under investigation,” Mr. Bussandri said in a statement, adding that the warrants “bring clarity to the situation.”
“We should also point out that we have taken measures to update our governance as well as our administrative procedures in order to ensure that we will meet the highest standards.”
Mr. Harper appointed Dr. Porter in 2008 to the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which investigates complaints about Canada's spy agency. In 2010, Mr. Harper made Dr. Porter the chair of the committee.
In order to legally serve on the SIRC, Dr. Porter was sworn in as lifetime member of the Queen's Privy Council. The committee's own literature says the position comes with clearance to examine all information held by CSIS.
The fifth suspect named in the warrant issued Wednesday is a man named Jeremy Morris.
The Globe has learned, through a source, that a Jeremy J. Morris is registered as a principal of Sierra Asset Management Inc., a Bahamas-based firm central to the fraud allegation.
Sierra signed a contract with SNC-Lavalin in 2009 to help the engineering firm secure a deal to build a new facility for the McGill University Health Centre Forensic auditors called in by SNC-Lavalin’s board found that the engineering firm disbursed about $22.5-million as part of its contract with Sierra, but auditors could not find any evidence of the work that was performed.
One of Dr. Porter’s most vocal supporters during his seven years at the health centre was former Conservative Senator David Angus, who chaired the hospital network’s board of directors.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Mr. Angus said he didn’t know enough about the allegations to comment. He said that during the competition that was held between 2008 and 2010 to award the lucrative hospital contract, Dr. Porter repeatedly reminded employees that they needed to be beyond reproach when dealing with bidders. “It was a huge point made under Dr. Porter’s direction, and mine as chairman, that everybody was to be Caesar’s wife and clean as a whistle,” he said.
He said that Dr. Porter was a competent administrator who accomplished great things during his time in Montreal. “I don’t know what it’s all about. As long as I was working with Dr. Porter, I thought he was a first-class operator and a very straight shooter, so if that’s not the case, that’s a shame. Let’s follow the rules that apply – the man is innocent until proven guilty.”
Mr. Duhaime and Mr. Ben Aïssa had already faced other corruption charges in November, alleging they tried to disguise SNC’s contract with Sierra as a legitimate deal when in fact they knew Sierra had been hired for another purpose.
Mr. Duhaime’s lawyer, Michel Massicotte, said he expects the previous charges will be set aside for the new ones, which he said are based on the same allegations. Mr. Massicotte said he informed Mr. Duhaime of the fresh charges Wednesday morning.
Mr. Elbaz was taken into custody and questioned by the anti-corruption squad Wednesday afternoon.
Dr. Porter, who resigned as chief executive of the MUHC, now lives in the Bahamas. Wednesday's statement from the anti-corruption squad made no mention of extradition requests.
With reports from Sophie Cousineau and Tu Thanh Ha
Editor's note: The McGill University Health Centre is not currently suing Arthur Porter. Incorrect information in an earlier version of this story has been removed. McGill University sued Dr. Porter over a low-interest loan. In January, McGill was awarded a default judgement for $252,000.