The RCMP has laid corruption and fraud charges against engineering firm SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. and two subsidiaries over alleged criminal acts that occurred doing business in Libya.
There is one count of corruption related to at least $47.7-million in alleged bribes to Libyan public or other officials. A second count is for fraud of about $130-million related to construction projects in Libya, including the Great Man Made River Project.
SNC responded quickly and said the charges – covering alleged activities between 2001 and 2011 – are without merit and that it will vigorously defend itself and plead not guilty.
SNC shares fell 6.61 per cent to $40.82 in early afternoon trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
The "market will treat the information as yet another cloud over the company's head," Dundee Securities analyst Maxim Sytchev said in a research note Thursday, adding: "does it ultimately change the amount of penalties SNC will need to fork out for the transgressions? No."
Any penalties that amount to less than $300-million would be viewed positively by the stock market, he said.
SNC chief executive Robert Card said in October that any move to charge the company would immediately threaten its future and could force it to close down. Even if charged but not convicted, the damage to its reputation would be such that all of its government business would be at risk, Mr. Card told The Globe and Mail's editorial board.
Most of SNC's contracts in Canada are for government projects and SNC would – if convicted – be barred from doing business with Ottawa for 10 years under the federal government's new anti-corruption code, meaning it would be forbidden to bid on major projects such as Montreal's new Champlain Bridge.
SNC said in a news release Thursday that the "alleged reprehensible deeds" were by former employees "who left the company long ago" and that any applicable charges should be applied against them and not the firm.
Three men have already been charged by the RCMP in its four-year-old investigation, the agency said Thursday.
"The charges stem from the same alleged activities of former employees from over three years ago in Libya, which are publicly known, and that the company has co-operated on with authorities since then," SNC president and chief executive officer Robert Card said in a statement.
"Even though SNC-Lavalin has already incurred significant financial damage and losses as a result of actions taken prior to March 2012, we have always been and remain willing to reach a reasonable and fair solution that promotes accountability, while permitting us to continue to business and protect the livelihood of our over 40,000 employees, our clients, our investors and our other stakeholders."
Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin was shaken by a series of corruption, bribery and money-laundering scandals three years ago that resulted in the departure of chief executive officer Pierre Duhaime and several other senior executives; criminal charges were laid against several individuals for offences in Libya, Algeria, Bangladesh and Montreal.
The allegations related to events in Libya centre on former SNC executive vice-president Riadh Ben Aissa, who struck a plea agreement in Switzerland and was extradited to Canada in October.
Mr. Ben Aissa was formally convicted of bribery, corruption and laundering hundreds of millions of dollars in connection with SNC projects in Libya.
He also faces criminal charges in separate allegations of having co-ordinated – with Arthur Porter – a $22.5-million kickback scheme to win the $1.3-billion contract to build a new super-hospital in Montreal.
The RCMP, which worked with Swiss authorities, alleged in an affidavit last year that Mr. Ben Aissa funnelled an estimated $160-million in corrupt payments from SNC to Saadi Gadhafi, the son of the late Libyan dictator, and other officials in exchange for billions in engineering contracts.
Among SNC projects in Libya were the construction of an airport in Benghazi, the world's biggest irrigation project – known as the Great Man-Made River – and a $275-million prison outside Tripoli.
Mr. Ben Aissa was granted bail last November and has a preliminary hearing set for next month.
SNC also said the RCMP charges do not affect the company's ability to bid or work on any public or private projects.
Dundee Securities' Mr. Sytchev pointed out that Swiss authorities found that SNC was itself defrauded by former executives and has been recognized as a victim and is to recoup $14-million from Mr. Ben Aissa.
That creates a legal precedent for how the case will ultimately play out, said Mr. Sytchev.
Under Mr. Card, SNC underwent a sweeping restructuring and implemented strict ethical, transparency and compliance measures.
Mr. Sytchev also pointed out that the financial scandal at SNC was limited to one division of the company.
An initial court appearance to hear the charges against SNC has been set for April 14.