One of Dr. Porter’s most vocal and loyal supporters, retired senator David Angus, a Conservative fundraiser going back to the Mulroney era, was one of the most frequent notables at Dr. Porter’s side as he dazzled Montreal and pushed the hospital project forward. Mr. Angus became chair of the MUHC board in 2007. The Conservative stalwart described Dr. Porter as a “first-class operator and very straight shooter” within hours of hearing the news that he was charged in connection to allegations of corruption last week. Mr. Angus has declined to describe what role he played, if any, in Dr. Porter’s federal appointments.
What went wrong
Investigators accuse SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. executives Pierre Duhaime, the company’s former CEO, and international construction boss Riadh Ben Aissa, of arranging to pay up to $22.5-million to Arthur Porter and Yanai Elbaz, two of the public officials involved in the complicated process to award SNC a $1.3-billion contract to build part of Montreal’s English hospital complex.
They allegedly used a Bahamian company named Sierra Asset Management to funnel part of the money.
Jeremy Morris, a man believed to be a principal with the company, and the four other men face a total of 24 counts of fraud, paying or accepting bribes, breach of trust and money laundering.
SNC’s trouble overseas
The alleged bribes that SNC-Lavalin paid to become the builder of Montreal’s new English-speaking hospital complex are just part of a much larger scandal that has engulfed the company for the past year and a half. Efforts by Canada, Switzerland and the World Bank to clamp down on companies that win business with bribes have created a major cross-border crisis for the Montreal-based engineering giant.
The first public sign that SNC-Lavalin had some major legal problems ahead of it came in September, 2011, when a team of RCMP officers descended on the company’s Oakville, Ont. office. The office building, just west of Toronto, is a long way from the impoverished nation of Bangladesh – but it was SNC’s alleged conduct in that country that compelled the RCMP to act. The World Bank, which at the time was preparing to finance a six-kilometre bridge for the Bangladeshi government, sounded alarm bells when it discovered that SNC had allegedly offered a cut of a bridge contract to several officials, including the then-communications minister Syed Abdul Hossain. The World Bank cancelled its $1.2-billion loan and referred the case to the Mounties, who have since charged two SNC employees under Canada’s Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act, the law that forbids foreign bribery.
As revolutions started to sweep over North Africa in the spring of 2011, SNC-Lavalin shut down its many projects – including a Libyan prison and an airport – and got out of harm’s way. But the company’s greatest threat at that time was not gun-wielding rebels. Rather, it was a group of Swiss forensic investigators. Quietly, behind the scenes, Switzerland’s attorney-general’s office had launched a probe of multiple multinational corporations that had been using the country’s secretive banking systems to channel bribes to foreign dictators, a criminal offence under Switzerland’s anti-bribery laws. Working in conjunction with the RCMP, the Swiss determined that SNC’s executive vice-president for construction, Riadh Ben Aissa, had allegedly done much more than wine and dine the family of the late Colonel Moammar Gadhafi; in fact, investigators suspected that he had used a complex web of shell corporations and Swiss bank accounts to funnel an estimated $160-million to Saadi Gadhafi, the late dictator’s third-born son. So when Mr. Ben Aissa landed in Switzerland in April, 2012 – only a few months after an acrimonious parting of ways with SNC – he was promptly arrested. He has been jailed there ever since, on suspicion of bribery, fraud and money laundering. The investigation into SNC’s alleged bribes continues.
Over the past decade SNC has turned, on a number of occasions, to the same “agent” to help it secure contracts in Algeria. His name is Farid Bedjaoui, a jet-setting money manager who was educated in Montreal and is the nephew of a prominent Algerian diplomat and politician, Mohammed Bedjaoui. But investigators in Switzerland and Italy have started to question where all of Mr. Bedjaoui’s money goes, and have alleged that he was used by several oil and gas service companies as a conduit to transfer more than $200-million in bribes to Algerian leaders. SNC has declined to say what projects they hired Mr. Bedjaoui to secure, but The Globe and Mail has learned that he has been used on several projects worth a total of more than $1-billion. A few weeks ago, police in Switzerland, Italy and France executed co-ordinated raids on several banks and residences, including Mr. Bedjaoui’s Paris apartment.