The RCMP has seized millions of Griffiths Energy International Inc. shares after searching law firm Norton Rose's Calgary office Tuesday, part of an effort by authorities to recoup funds tied to the company's bribery case.
Griffiths Energy, a Calgary oil and gas company, last month pleaded guilty to bribing foreign officials from Chad, and now police are trying to recover the cash and shares tied to the crime.
The seized 3.2 million "founders shares," worth over $20-million, belonged to two people – the wife of Chad's former ambassador to Canada and a man who was once their children's spiritual teacher. Norton Rose had the stock certificates in its possession in its capacity as Griffiths Energy's former counsel, according to documents filed in court this week.
The law firm co-operated with the search.
The search and seizure broadens the fallout of the landmark case against Griffiths Energy. The oil and gas company, founded by the late Bay Street banker Brad Griffiths and two of his associates, paid a $10.35-million fine after admitting it bribed Chadian officials as it sought to acquire oil properties in Chad. With that conviction in hand, the RCMP is now pursuing others linked to corruption case.
No new charges have been laid, the court document said. Norton Rose, an international law firm, merged with Calgary-based Macleod Dixon in June, 2011.
Griffiths Energy hired Macleod Dixon in January, 2011. The company was previously represented by law firm Heenan Blaikie.
Griffiths Energy spent years trying to obtain oil and gas licences in Chad, with the company's co-founders first showing interest in 2008. They turned to Mahamoud Bechir, Chad's ambassador to Canada and other countries including the United States, for help. In August, 2009, Griffiths Energy signed a consulting contract worth $2-million (U.S.) with a company owned by Mr. Bechir, but one of its lawyers at Heenan Blaikie advised the Canadian company not to deal with him because he was a foreign official. Griffiths Energy then signed an identical agreement with a company owned by Nouracham Niam, Mr. Bechir's wife, in September of that year.
Mr. Griffiths attended a dinner at the ambassador's house in mid-to-late 2009, according to an affidavit signed by Constable Chad Babin dated February 19, 2013. "According to Ms. Niam, Brad Griffiths told her he would give her two million dollars and founders' shares in Griffiths if she could get him an introduction to Nasser (the Chadian Oil Minister) and Griffiths obtained blocks," the document says, referencing an interview she gave to lawyers at Gowlings Lafleur Henderson LLP, who served as the company's lawyer as it waded through its corruption troubles.
Ms. Niam "indicated that Brad seemed willing to give her anything she wanted as Brad wanted to make her happy and encourage her to work on Griffiths behalf in 2009."
Griffiths Energy sold millions of so-called founders shares to Ms. Niam, Adoum Hassan, the spiritual teacher, and the wife of deputy ambassador Youssouf Takane for a fraction of a penny each in 2009. Mr. Hassan sold his shares to Ms. Niam, according to the ambassador. The RCMP have yet to recover the shares belonging to Mr. Takane's wife.
Montreal lawyer Jacques Bouchard Jr., then at Heenan Blaikie, served as Griffiths Energy's lead lawyer between 2009 and 2010. He left the firm in December, 2011. Mr. Bouchard was aware Griffiths Energy was in contact with Mr. Bechir as the company tried to secure the energy contracts, according to court documents.
"Ambassador called wants me to come to Washington to fix up consulting agreement. Told his people I was in the dark and would need to get back to him. He says we want to meet this week," Mr. Griffiths said to Mr. Bouchard in an e-mail dated March 9, 2010, according to court documents.
Mr. Griffiths sent another e-mail to Mr. Bouchard on March 29, 2010, updating the lawyer. "Washington called, Ambassador wants to know what he can do for us and do we want a meeting with the President to be arranged by their office when we go. Talk soon."
There were "hundreds" of e-mails between Mr. Bouchard, the ambassador, the ambassador's deputy, Mr. Griffiths and company co-founder Naeem Tyab, the affidavit says.
Neither Heenan Blaikie nor Norton Rose have been accused of any wrongdoing. Mr. Bouchard would not comment on the e-mails, directing questions to Heenan Blaikie. That law firm was not available for comment. Norton Rose wasn't available for comment for this article.