The professional order that oversees engineering in Quebec says it has called a disciplinary hearing to question former SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. chief executive Jacques Lamarre, thrusting the company’s dealings in Libya back into the spotlight.
L’Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec confirmed in an e-mailed statement Monday that its Office of the Syndic filed a formal complaint against Mr. Lamarre June 15 after an investigation it conducted. It said a hearing of its disciplinary council, an independent administrative tribunal, would be held to consider whether Mr. Lamarre infringed the organization’s code of ethics and professional duties.
The Ordre did not provide any information about the nature of the allegations against Mr. Lamarre, who has been retired for several years. But the former CEO, reached at home, confirmed it relates to SNC-Lavalin’s dealings in Libya in the early 2000s when he led the company.
“I think this is normal. They want to know what happened in Libya,” said Mr. Lamarre, adding he’d been expecting the hearing. “It’s less a complaint than a request for information. I’m certainly ready to meet them.”
SNC-Lavalin Group and two of its affiliates were charged in 2015 with violating Canada’s Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act and fraud related to its business dealings in Libya when Moammar Gadhafi was in power in the early 2000s. The company asked for a special settlement to the case, known as a deferred prosecution agreement, but was denied it because of what the director of federal prosecutions said was the “severity and breadth” of the offence.
SNC undertook an intense lobbying campaign with the federal government to get a deal, saying the charges stripped it of at least $5-billion in lost revenue and damaged its reputation internationally. Allegations that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other members of his government improperly pressed then-justice minister and attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould to order a settlement engulfed the government in crisis for months.
The company struck an agreement with prosecutors in 2019, in which the company’s construction division pleaded guilty to a single charge of fraud. The corruption charge was dropped. The company agreed to pay a $280-million fine and received a three-year probation order, which includes oversight by an independent monitor. The Quebec judge who approved the agreement called it “reasonable” and said that, without such plea deals, Canada’s justice system “would collapse under its own weight.”
Only one former SNC-Lavalin executive was tried and convicted in Canada for his role in the Libya case. Sami Bebawi, a former SNC executive vice-president, was found guilty in 2020 on charges of bribery, fraud and laundering the proceeds of crime. He lost an appeal earlier this year. He is now serving a prison sentence of 8½ years.
Riadh Ben Aissa, SNC’s former point man in Libya and Mr. Bebawi’s subordinate, served time in a Swiss prison after pleading guilty to charges in the European country including corruption of a foreign public official. He signed an agreement to co-operate with the RCMP and was the star witness in the Bebawi trial. A related case against former SNC controller Stéphane Roy was dropped because of delays.
Mr. Lamarre, who helmed SNC for 13 years, gave statements to authorities in Switzerland but was never charged. He has insisted he did nothing wrong and told The Globe and Mail Monday he’s been always been accessible and “perfectly transparent” about the case.
In a book on the SNC-Lavalin saga, author and journalist Vincent Larouche said the idea of charging the former CEO was the subject of intense discussions between police investigators and Crown prosecutors in Canada. In the end, the prosecutors concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to move forward, according to the book.
During Mr. Bebawi’s trial, prosecutors characterized the former vice-president as the architect of a “business model” involving kickbacks and payoffs to foreign agents to cement SNC-Lavalin business deals in Libya. Mr. Bebawi has maintained he acted with the knowledge and authorization of his superiors.
In a letter to the judge presiding over his trial, Mr. Bebawi deplored that senior leaders he called “untouchables” left the engineering firm without ever suffering the same consequences he had. He told an RCMP investigator that he was frustrated Mr. Lamarre denied in media interviews at the time that he approved the purchase of a yacht for Mr. Gadhafi’s son, Saadi, the court heard.
Mr. Lamarre, an executive named to the Order of Canada, is listed as a retired engineer in good standing on the Ordre des ingénieurs website. Engineers can lose their status with the organization if they are found to have infringed their professional duties. The organization also has the power to levy fines of as much as $62,500 for each alleged infraction.