Prosecutors will likely begin presenting evidence against David Baazov, the Montreal internet gambling entrepreneur charged with insider trading, before the end of this winter after a Quebec Court judge rejected a motion to dismiss the case.
In a decision Monday afternoon, Judge Salvatore Mascia ruled that Mr. Baazov and five co-accused must stand trial. But he said the defence will be given proper time to prepare after the late disclosure of documents by lawyers for Quebec's securities regulator, the Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF).
A new start date for the trial has not been set. The judge said in his ruling that a one-month delay should be sufficient but he wants another update from the parties before striking a date.
"It was very close at home plate but in the end the motion is rejected," Justice Mascia told the court. The case is particularly complex and the prosecution demonstrated the existence of exceptional circumstances to justify exceeding the 18-month, start-to-finish time limit for provincial court cases set out in a recent Supreme Court ruling known as Jordan, the judge said in his written decision.
The ruling is the latest development in what is widely considered to be Canada's largest-ever insider trading investigation. The pressure is now fully on the Quebec regulator to lay out its case against the founder of Amaya Inc. in the closely watched saga.
"We're satisfied" with the ruling, said Sylvain Théberge, spokesman for the AMF. "Let's move forward."
Adam Sharon, spokesman for Mr. Baazov, said: "We look forward to proving our case in court and being fully vindicated."
Things have not gone smoothly for the AMF since it laid rare insider-trading charges against Mr. Baazov in March, 2016. The regulator released some documents in a related investigation by mistake to the defence and subsequently asked for their return. It is also facing a lawsuit by a Montreal rabbi who says the AMF targeted his home in an unlawful raid.
The regulator will be seeking to move past those early missteps and prove it can bring three alleged white-collar criminals to justice. It has prosecuted about 15 insider-trading cases over the past five years, winning most of them, Mr. Théberge said. The most recent was in July, 2017, when the Quebec Court fined Renée Morier and Sylvain Milette a total of $354,703 for having used privileged information relating to BCE Inc.'s takeover of Astral Media, Bell Aliant and Glentel Inc.
The case centres on the improbable $4.9-billion (U.S.) takeover by Montreal gambling supply company Amaya Inc. of popular internet cardroom PokerStars in 2014. The deal was made possible with the backing of Wall Street institutional investor Blackstone Group LP.
The AMF alleges Mr. Baazov, Amaya's founder and then chief executive, and two associates conspired to try to pump up the price of Amaya stock in the lead-up to the PokerStars takeover. It alleges that the former CEO provided privileged information to both men about the progress of takeover talks and that the recipients acted on the tips and traded in Amaya shares.
Mr. Baazov is charged with aiding with trades while in possession of privileged information, influencing or attempting to influence the market price of Amaya securities and communicating privileged information. Benjamin Ahdoot, a childhood friend, and Yoel Altman, a consultant who advised Amaya on deals, are charged with insider trading and attempting to influence the market price of Amaya securities. Three Ontario companies controlled by Mr. Altman are also charged with similar offences.
None of the allegations has been proven. The defendants have pleaded not guilty.
Lawyers for the defendants sought to have the case dismissed, saying the AMF has messed up document disclosure so thoroughly that they can't be tried in reasonable time. As an example of the regulator's mishandling, defence counsel said the AMF dumped 16 million items of data onto its lap in late September, three months before Mr. Baazov's trial was originally scheduled to start.
Defendants filed a formal motion to stay the proceedings. They argued the AMF charged them without doing enough legwork first and failed to follow a plan to minimize delays in the case, according to the motion. The judge rejected those arguments.
Amaya has since changed its name to The Stars Group Inc. and relocated its headquarters to Toronto.