Each year on Halloween night, Kristine Robidoux hands out coffee and Baileys to the adults who accompany trick-or-treating children. But on Oct. 31, 2011, the grown-ups walked away empty-handed.
The lawyer spent that evening holed up in her mudroom, taking calls and fielding e-mails about Griffiths Energy International Inc. Her mom was left in charge of handing out candies.
Griffiths Energy had installed a new management three months before, and the company was preparing an initial public offering to help finance properties it had secured in the central African country of Chad. But leaders at the private oil outfit discovered unusual consulting agreements in the company’s past, contracts negotiated and signed before the new management joined.
Griffiths’ bankers phoned the Calgary office of Gowlings Lafleur Henderson LLP. Two partners then called Ms. Robidoux, the head of the firm’s global business integrity group, to fill her in. “I was told to be ready for a meeting with the [Griffiths Energy] board the next day,” she said, “without even knowing the nature of what had been found.”
Ms. Robidoux, who built her own Calgary-based corruption consulting practice before joining Gowlings in 2008, met Griffiths Energy’s board and management Nov. 1. They hired her that day, and a long internal investigation began.
The probe resulted in Griffiths Energy pleading guilty last week in an Alberta court to bribery charges under the Corruption of Foreign Officials Act, and the company agreed to a $10.35-million penalty. According to the agreed statement of facts, the company paid a $2-million (U.S.) bribe to the wife of Chad’s ambassador to Canada, hoping to gain an advantage as it negotiated with the government for blocks of land.
During the investigation, Griffiths Energy’s management let Ms. Robidoux, a former criminal defence lawyer, and her team call the shots.
“They had no tangible concessions from the Crown – no promises that were made,” Ms. Robidoux said. “All they had were the hope and expectation that the authorities would see that they were acting in good faith,” she said.
“They said to us: ‘How can we get to the bottom of the nature and circumstance of the agreements that we’ve uncovered, and further, how can we be assured there’s no other wrongdoing in the history of the company?’” Ms. Robidoux said.
“This company took every step that we could ever have recommended they take,” Ms. Robidoux added. “Some of the advice that we gave them was difficult for them. The advice that we gave them was going to cause them to incur significant expense.”
Gary Guidry, Griffith Energy’s chief executive officer, declined to comment for this story.
Gowlings first searched for hard copies of documents and electronic data, and then took images from everything the law firm got its hands on – BlackBerrys, iPhones, a server in Toronto, an accounting server in Houston, as well as electronics belonging to certain company consultants, Ms. Robidoux said.
Gowlings ended up with 212,000 documents, some one-page e-mails, some stretching on for hundreds of pages. Forensic accounting specialists KPMG LLP had custody of the database. Together Gowlings and KPMG electronically searched the database for key words in both French and English. The list was four pages long and included words like ambassador, consultant, commission and favour, Ms. Robidoux said. Every time the automatic search hit something, the lawyers it checked manually.
“At the end of the day, electronic searching is only going to get you so far,” said Ms. Robidoux. “Then you need people who understand bribery, and who understand some of the dynamics and how people speak to each other. There’s a lot of conversation in code.”
Gowlings interviewed 31 people, including current and former Griffiths Energy employees, third-party consultants, external lawyers, and current and former government officials in Chad, according to the statement of facts. One of Chad’s former ministers of petroleum and energy were among those interviewed, Ms. Robidoux said.
Brad Griffiths, the high-profile Bay Street investment banker, and Naeem and Parvez Tyab founded Griffiths Energy. The statement of facts says Naeem Tyab signed the illegal consulting agreements.
Mr. Griffiths died in a boating incident in July, 2011, after bringing in the new management team.
Not all details of the case are known. As Ms. Robidoux noted, “unfortunately, the person who would have the most information is no longer with us.”