SNC-Lavalin is once again under a cloud after the RCMP alleged the engineering firm made "bribery payments" of more than $2-million to a Liberal appointee in charge of federal bridges.
The allegations are related to repair work on the Jacques Cartier Bridge in 2000, and are another blow to the reputation of SNC-Lavalin, which leads the consortium to build the new $4-billion Champlain Bridge nearby in Montreal.
SNC-Lavalin or former officials of the company have in the past been accused of bribery in Algeria, Bangladesh and Libya, as well as in connection with a major hospital project in Montreal.
As part of an investigation launched three years ago, the RCMP laid charges of fraud and breach of trust this week against Michel Fournier, who was the president of the Federal Bridge Corporation from 1998 to 2006.
The RCMP alleges Mr. Fournier received payments related to a $120-million contract that the federal agency awarded to a consortium that included SNC-Lavalin in 2000.
No current or former employees of SNC-Lavalin were charged at the same time as Mr. Fournier, but the RCMP said its investigation is "ongoing."
In a statement, SNC-Lavalin said it "actively collaborated" with the RCMP investigation, which was launched in the fall of 2013.
"To our knowledge, the facts in question concern ... individuals who left the company long ago," SNC-Lavalin spokesman Louis-Antoine Paquin said.
Mr. Fournier has had a long history in the Liberal Party of Canada, serving as chief of staff to leader Jean Chrétien when the party was in opposition in the early 1990s. He was director-general of the Quebec wing of the Liberal Party from 1992 to 1994.
Mr. Fournier was appointed to the Federal Bridge Corporation by the Chrétien government in 1998, and held the job until the Conservatives came to power in 2006.
In its 2000-2001 annual report, the Federal Bridge Corporation heralded its $120-million contract to replace the deck on the Jacques Cartier Bridge in Montreal as "the most important bridge repair project ever undertaken in Canada."
"The Corporation has set up an organizational structure specifically for this project, bringing together a number of several specialized firms which are committed to carrying out a quality project with minimum impact on users," the annual report said.
The RCMP alleged SNC-Lavalin made payments to Mr. Fournier between 2001 and 2004. The money to Mr. Fournier allegedly went into a Swiss bank account code-named "Zorro."
"The investigation is in relation to allegations of bribery payments paid to Mr. Fournier by SNC-Lavalin Inc.," RCMP spokeswoman Brigitte Mimeault said in a statement. "The payments were made during the time the contract was awarded to SNC-Lavalin (as part of Groupement SMDB) for repairs of the Jacques Cartier Bridge in Montreal."
Last year, SNC-Lavalin signed an "administrative agreement" with the Public Services and Procurement Department in Ottawa under the government's new integrity regime. The agreement allows companies that have federal charges pending against them to continue to contract with or supply the government.
As part of the deal, SNC agreed to strict conditions and third-party oversight of its business practices.
The RCMP have also charged Mr. Fournier and his wife, Judith Barkley Fournier, with possession of property obtained by crime and laundering proceeds of crime.
The pair are to appear in court in Montreal on Sept. 26.
Mr. Fournier's name came up at the inquiry into the sponsorship scandal in 2005, over allegations he asked the head of a Liberal-friendly advertising firm for a large donation to the Liberal campaign in 1993. Jean Brault of Groupaction Marketing Inc. told the inquiry that Liberal organizer Daniel-Yves Durand and Mr. Fournier asked him for a $20,000 political donation at a restaurant meeting.
Mr. Brault testified that he instead decided to put Mr. Durant on his payroll for a few months while allowing him to work for the Liberal Party.