Panamanian authorities have arrested Arthur Porter, the flamboyant physician with once-strong Conservative ties who is accused of taking bribes in his former job heading one of Canada’s major hospital construction projects.
Dr. Porter, who was instrumental in the awarding in 2010 of a $1.3-billion contract to SNC-Lavalin to build a massive new English hospital in Montreal, was detained Monday with his wife, Pamela Porter.
The provincial anti-corruption squad UPAC confirmed the arrest, adding that extradition proceedings against the couple are under way.
Dr. Porter was already facing charges of of committing fraud against the government, accepting bribes and conspiracy. Ms. Porter, who was also known under the family name Mattock, faces a charge of money laundering, according to UPAC spokeswoman Anne-Frédérick Laurence.
Ms. Porter is the seventh person charged in the case, along with other former hospital officials and SNC-Lavalin executives, including former CEO Pierre Duhaime.
Dr. Porter, who Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed to head the Security Intelligence Review committee, ran the hospital for seven years ending in 2011, when he abruptly resigned and moved to the Bahamas.
A forensic audit ordered by SNC-Lavalin’s board showed $22.5-million was transferred in 2009 from the Montreal-based engineering and construction giant to a company in the Bahamas called Sierra Asset Management. Investigators now allege that money was funnelled from SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. through Sierra to disguise bribes paid to Dr. Porter and other hospital officials.
Last December, a report by the Quebec Health Ministry condemned Dr. Porter’s management of the institution, which was left with a massive deficit after his departure.
Dr. Porter has since worked at his clinic in the Bahamas, where he has told occasional interviewers that he suffers from a very serious form of cancer. Photographs of Dr. Porter have shown him to have lost substantial weight since his days in Montreal, when he was a fixture at high society functions.
Dr. Porter has called the charges “scurrilous and scandalous,” but has declined to discuss the details of the criminal charges. “I don’t want them to think I would chicken out on anything,” Dr. Porter told the Associated Press in February. “If they want to come here, absolutely, no problem.”
Mr. Harper appointed Dr. Porter to the intelligence watchdog in 2008, and made him chair in 2010. During that time, Dr. Porter made donations to the Conservative Party that appeared to run afoul of government guidelines that call for political independence in his watchdog role.
The charges against Dr. Porter, Mr. Duhaime and SNC-Lavalin construction head Riadh Ben Aissa were announced in February. One month later, the McGill University Health Centre announced it was cancelling plans to name a street on the hospital property “Arthur T. Porter Way.”