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Norton Rose, and the timely launch of its anticorruption team Add to ...

It’s just a coincidence. But the Canadian arm of international law firm Norton Rose has launched a new business ethics and anti-corruption team, just two weeks after the Toronto-area offices of one of its biggest clients were raided by the RCMP.

Mounties searched the Oakville, Ont., offices of Montreal-based engineering and construction giant SNC-Lavalin -- a long-time client of the former Ogilvy Renault LLP, which merged with London-based Norton Rose this year -- on Sept. 1.

The search was part of an anti-corruption investigation into allegations related to SNC-Lavalin’s bid for a contract to supervise the building of a multi-billion-dollar bridge in Bangladesh. The contract has not been awarded.

Norton Rose’s Ottawa-based leader of the team, Paul Conlin, said the plan to launch the initiative dates back three months, long before the SNC-Lavalin matter arose. He said he could not comment on the investigation.

But various Canadian clients have been raising concerns over stepped-up anti-bribery enforcement around the world for a while now, he said, partly because of recent events.

The issue has certainly been in the headlines. In June, Calgary-based Niko Resources paid a $9.5-million (Canadian) fine after pleading guilty to bribing a Bangladeshi energy minister with a luxury SUV, as well as a trip to Calgary, New York and Chicago. In July, Mounties searched the Calgary offices of Blackfire Exploration Ltd., in connection with allegations that the company paid bribes to a small-town mayor in Mexico. The company denies it knowingly paid bribes.

The British government has also recently enacted a tough new anti-bribery law that experts say could be applied to foreign companies if they carry on business in Britain. And U.S. authorities have long been aggressive on the issue.

The Niko case was seen by some as a sign that Canada's lax anti-corruption enforcement, which has earned it harsh international criticism, was being stepped up. The RCMP has said that it has more than 20 investigations currently on the go.

“There’s been a significant uptick in the level of resources dedicated to investigations by the RCMP,” Mr. Conlin said in an interview, adding that recent news coverage has gotten companies’ attention. “What that attention has done is it has caused a lot of people on the compliance side of companies to take a second look at what they are doing and what their policies are.”

Mr. Conlin said Norton Rose, with its Canadian expertise and its lawyers in offices around the world, can help companies comply with global anti-corruption rules with what he called “one-stop shopping.”

In addition to making a company’s case in court, Norton Rose and other law firms that specialize in the area also conduct internal investigations when allegations first arise.

The new team, Norton Rose says, will also offer risk assessments, compliance programs, scrutiny of proposed mergers or acquisitions, and “anti-money-laundering expertise.”

Naturally, Canadian mining and energy companies, which often operate in developing countries where a culture of bribery or lax local enforcement is commonplace, are seen as particularly at risk.

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