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A former top employee of Bombardier Inc . has been charged in Sweden with aggravated bribery in connection with a lucrative contract the company won in Azerbaijan.

The charges are the result of a five-year investigation by Sweden’s National Anti-Corruption Unit, and is one of the biggest corruption cases the country has seen. If convicted, Thomas Bimer, who was vice-president of Bombardier’s Stockholm-headquartered rail-control solutions division when the Azerbaijan contract was awarded in 2013, could face up to six years in prison.

Bombardier Transportation Sweden won a US$340-million deal to install sophisticated signalling systems along Azerbaijan’s main railway line. The National Anti-Corruption Unit said as much as US$100-million was paid as a bribe to ensure that a Bombardier-led consortium won the contract.

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From the archives: Bombardier and the Putin connection

Prosecutor Staffan Edlund told The Globe and Mail on Wednesday that Mr. Bimer was charged because he was aware of links between Bombardier’s local partner, Trans-Signal-Rabita, and Azerbaijan’s state-owned railway company “and with that knowledge, he still let the deal go ahead.”

Mr. Bimer could not immediately be reached for comment.

A copy of the indictment seen by The Globe alleges that “Thomas Bimer offered, promised and provided undue benefit to a public servant in Azerbaijan” – a former Azerbaijan Railways official named Rafiq Gulmaliyev – by bringing Trans-Signal-Rabita, “a company in which the public servant had an interest and influence” into the Bombardier-led consortium that won the 2013 bid.

The indictment says an internal Bombardier e-mail will be presented in court that suggests the consortium had little chance of winning the bid without the involvement of Trans-Signal-Rabita. Another piece of evidence is a payment order that the indictment says will prove the Russian unit of Bombardier Transportation paid a pair of “agreed advances” to Trans-Signal-Rabita in 2014 that were together worth US$18.8-million.

The indictment also notes Swedish police interrogated Mr. Bimer and he denied committing any crime.

Mr. Edlund said Mr. Bimer had been sent a copy of the indictment that was filed on Wednesday in Stockholm’s main court, and has two weeks to reply. Bombardier has always maintained that neither the company nor any of its officers were involved in any corrupt transactions related to the Azerbaijan project.

The same deal is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and is the subject of an audit by the World Bank, which supplied 80 per cent of the funding for upgrading Azerbaijan’s railway network.

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Evgeny Pavlov, a junior official at Bombardier Transportation Sweden, was acquitted in 2017 of bribery charges relating to the same contract. Mr. Edlund said that verdict is under appeal, but that Mr. Pavlov had left Sweden and is believed to be in Russia.

Bombardier sold its railway division to French train maker Alstom in January, but according to Bombardier’s most recent annual report, it remains liable to Alstom in the event any damages are awarded in the case. “There is no evidence that suggests a corrupt payment was made or offered to a public official or that any other criminal activity involving Bombardier took place,” the report reads. “The corporation remains involved in this legal proceeding and remains liable to Alstom.”

Mr. Edlund said Mr. Bimer would likely be the highest-ranking official charged in the affair, and that the National Anti-Corruption Unit had no evidence to support charges against Mr. Bimer’s superiors in Montreal. “We could speculate that a decision of the magnitude of this Azerbaijan contract, others would have had to be informed, but we haven’t found any evidence that would allow us to indict anyone else.”

E-mails and other documents made public during Mr. Pavlov’s trial appeared to show that Trans-Signal-Rabita – which won the 2013 bid despite offering the fifth-best price among eight applicants – was controlled by a former employee of Azerbaijan Railways, and that its business history was fabricated to meet World Bank requirements.

Documents obtained by The Globe as part of its own investigation into the affair found that Bombardier Transportation Sweden sold its signature Ebi Lock 950 rail-signalling equipment for US$20-million to a shell company called Multiserv Overseas Ltd. that was controlled by associates of former Russian Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin, a long-time confidante of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Multiserv then sold the same equipment on to Trans-Signal-Rabita for US$104-million. It’s unclear what became of the US$84-million difference.

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In a statement to The Globe on Wednesday, Bombardier spokesman Mark Masluch said: “Conducting business with integrity and the highest ethical standards is at the heart of Bombardier’s culture and a top priority among its more than 13,000 employees. The company takes these matters very seriously. Bombardier continues its internal review on the matter and will take into full account all available information.”

With a report from Nicolas Van Praet

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