An internal review has cleared Canada’s export credit agency of wrongdoing in connection with a controversial insurance policy it provided in support of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc.’s work in Angola.
SNC-Lavalin won a contract to repair a damaged dam there in 2010; Export Development Canada underwrote a political risk insurance policy covering $250-million to $500-million to support that work. In early April, the CBC reported allegations that EDC had turned a blind eye to improper payments made to get the contract.
After learning of those allegations, EDC retained law firm Fasken to review its employees’ conduct in screening the transaction. After a three-month review, “Fasken did not find any evidence that EDC personnel had knowledge of, or were willfully blind to, bribery and corruption in relation to the project as had been alleged,” EDC said in a statement on Thursday.
Fasken’s review was lead by Peter Mantas, head of the firm’s white-collar defence and investigations group, and Clifford Sosnow, co-chair of its international trade group. The firm collected more than 1.7 million internal records and interviewed EDC staff, eight of whom were closely involved in the transaction.
“Our investigation found that EDC conducted due diligence in respect of the project over a period of 15 months," Mr. Mantas told The Globe and Mail. "During this time, EDC and its staff made inquiries, including risk assessments, interviews, background checks and the like.”
EDC declined to release Fasken’s report because it contained confidential commercial information relating to the agency and other parties involved in the transaction.
EDC spokesperson Todd Winterhalt said the severity of the corruption-related allegations prompted the review, and added that EDC wanted to demonstrate openness to improving its internal processes.
“This is really a move for EDC to be as open and as transparent as we can be,” he said.
Fasken continues to review EDC’s screening process for the Angolan transaction, and EDC said in the statement it would address any gaps that are found. Fasken’s full review, which is expected to cost about $100,000, is to be completed by the end of the summer.
Stories by The Globe this year explored EDC’s support for clients dogged by corruption allegations, human-rights or environmental abuses.
EDC is investigating one other transaction.
In 2015, EDC announced a loan of up to US$450-million to help Transnet, South Africa’s national rail network operator, buy 240 locomotives from Bombardier Transportation. Transnet later became ensnared in a South African corruption scandal; its current chairman, Popo Molefe, recently told a public inquiry the company had become a “horror movie,” and a “piggy bank” for looters.
EDC has said it is reviewing its financing agreement with Transnet. “We are monitoring the ongoing investigations by Transnet and the South African government,” spokesperson Jessica Draker added.
Although EDC is a Crown corporation and reports to the Minister of International Trade, critics say it receives little federal oversight. Once a decade, enabling legislation, the Export Development Act, is reviewed. Last month, the government published a report arising from that process that suggested EDC’s disclosure practices fell short of other institutions such as the World Bank. The report praised EDC for strengthening its environmental and anti-corruption practices.
Above Ground, a non-governmental organization and vocal EDC critic, called on the federal government to modify the Export Development Act to compel EDC to screen all clients more rigorously.
“SNC-Lavalin is only one of EDC’s clients that has faced allegations of very serious wrongdoing, ranging from corruption to environmental offences to involvement in human-rights abuse,” spokesperson Lori Waller said.