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Streetwise Former Chadian diplomat launches lawsuit over Griffiths Energy probe

Mahamoud Bechir, formerly Chad’s ambassador to Canada, says governments have frozen some of his assets.

Geoffrey York/The Globe and Mail

U.S. law enforcement officials are still investigating Chad's former ambassador to Canada for potential criminal wrongdoing tied to a corporate corruption scandal in Alberta, and have frozen some of the diplomat's assets around the globe, according to a new court filing.

Mahamoud Bechir, the former diplomat who was based in the United States during his tenure, and his wife Nouracham Niam, have launched a $150-million lawsuit against three parties involved in the Griffiths Energy International Inc. corruption case. The new lawsuit, filed Jan. 23 in Calgary, provides a glimpse into the ongoing global investigation that has followed the Canadian anti-bribery case.

Griffiths Energy in 2013 pleaded guilty to charges under Canada's Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act and paid a $10.35-million penalty. The company investigated itself and concluded former Griffiths Energy officials tried to bribe Mr. Bechir in hopes of securing oil and gas properties in Chad. The case centred on a $2-million (U.S.) payment Griffiths Energy made to Ms. Niam and four million shares the company granted her and her associates.

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The U.S. Department of Justice is still investigating Mr. Bechir, according to his new lawsuit. Authorities in the United States and in the United Kingdom – including its Serious Fraud Office – have worked to freeze some of the couple's assets. This includes a bank account containing roughly $1.4-million in South Africa, and accounts holding millions of dollars worth of what were once Griffith Energy shares, according to the new lawsuit.

Mr. Bechir and his wife essentially argue Griffiths Energy's co-operation with law enforcement authorities in Canada and the United States amounts to a breach of their diplomatic immunity privileges. However, neither Mr. Bechir nor his wife faced charges in Canada. The new lawsuit does not indicate they are facing charges in other jurisdictions.

The former ambassador argues the defendants are responsible for harming his reputation, "offending his dignity as a diplomatic agent," and "causing him great anxiety" as a result of "proceedings commenced against him in the USA and by the continued criminal investigation" in the United States, the filing says. Ms. Niam's claims are similar.

The couple is suing the Canadian division of Glencore PLC, which purchased Griffiths Energy's successor company in 2014; Gowlings Lafleur Henderson LLP, the law firm that represented Griffiths Energy in the corruption investigation; and Kristine Robidoux, the Gowlings lawyer who handled the case.

"The allegations in this action are entirely without merit. Neither Gowlings nor Ms. Robidoux has been served with the statement of claim. If the action proceeds, it will be vigorously defended in court," the law firm said in a statement to the Globe. A call to Glencore's Calgary office wasn't returned.

As part of Griffiths Energy's internal investigation, launched in November, 2011, Ms. Robidoux and her team interviewed Mr. Bechir, his wife and their associates. Neither the ambassador nor his wife were "informed" the investigation "had been reported to and discussed with law enforcement authorities in Canada and the USA," according to the new legal filing.

Griffiths, however, in a regulatory document filed Nov. 22, 2011, publicly disclosed it was investigating whether consulting agreements it struck between August, 2009, and March, 2011, complied with corruption laws. Griffiths also said it contacted relevant authorities in Canada and the United States.

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This disclosure preceded Gowlings's interviews with Mr. Bechir and three of his associates. Ms. Niam was interviewed Nov. 6, 2011, and Jan. 11, 2012, according to court filings.

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