TORONTO – A wrongful dismissal lawsuit filed by a former SNC-Lavalin employee is shedding some light on the bribery allegations facing the Toronto-area engineer and his one-time boss.
Mohammad Ismail, 49, was fired from the engineering company in 2011, a year before he and his former supervisor Ramesh Shah, 61, were charged by the RCMP with attempting to bribe Bangladeshi government officials in relation to the Padma Bridge project.
Shah had been a vice-president and Ismail was the director of international projects at SNC-Lavalin in Toronto. The two were arrested following a raid on the SNC-Lavalin office in Oakville, Ont., in September 2012 at the request of the World Bank.
Their next court appearance is scheduled on Monday for a pre-trial hearing, which is subject to an automatic publication ban. A trial date has yet to be announced.
In his civil suit against SNC-Lavalin, filed in March, Ismail alleges that the engineering giant ignored the harassment, intimidation and “callous” treatment he said he received from his supervisor, dating as far back as 2007 when the two worked together on a project in Guyana. Ismail claims the ill treatment caused him to develop a psychiatric disorder.
He also addresses the alleged bribery issue, claiming his supervisor prepared and used a template containing the “Project Consultancy Cost” or PCC accounting code. The World Bank, in relation to an investigation into the Bangladesh bridge project, claimed the PCC code was SNC’s euphemism “to indicate the cost of the bribes to be paid”.
Ismail said the code was used in several project proposals and he was ordered to use it, according to documents filed in a Toronto court in May. Ismail claims he refused and submitted the Padma Bridge proposal without the PCC, or bribery payment.
The use of the template that contained the PCC was one of several “unethical” things that Ismail alleges he was directed to do, according to his wrongful dismissal lawsuit. Ismail also claims he was forced to break promises that had been made to clients and sign fake agreements.
“The Plaintiff states that he, as well as many others, brought to upper management’s attention, both verbally and in writing, Shah’s ‘wrong-doing’ including the PCC,” Ismail says in his reply to the statement of defence.
The allegations have not been proven in court.
Ismail is seeking at least $300,000 from SNC-Lavalin for wrongful dismissal, mental distress and other damages.
SNC-Lavalin (TSX:SNC) denies the allegations in a statement of defence filed in April 2013.
SNC-Lavalin says Ismail was let go from the company on April 5, 2011 due to a “number of performance issues,” according to the statement.
“Subsequent to Ismail’s termination, SNC-Lavalin obtained additional information about Ismail’s involvement in the payment or proposed payment of bribes to individuals involved in construction projects,” the statement of defence says.
The company says it is relying on this information as “after-acquired cause,” according to the statement of defence. The term is used to describe employee conduct that may be used to justify a dismissal even though it was unknown to the employer at the time of the firing.
The lawyer representing Ismail said SNC-Lavalin “basically threw him under the bus.”
“This is a typical situation where a large employer is scapegoating its junior employee,” said Bram Lecker.
SNC-Lavalin declined to respond to Lecker’s allegations.
“We cannot comment on cases presently before the courts in order not to prejudice their outcome, except to say that all such decisions are taken very seriously,” spokeswoman Lilly Nguyen said in a statement.
In April, the World Bank barred SNC-Lavalin in April from bidding on any of its development projects for the next decade after investigating the company’s practices in projects in Cambodia and Bangladesh. At the time, the Globe and Mail and CBC reported the company paid “consultancy costs” between 2008 and 2011 to win several development contracts in Africa and Asia.
The engineering company said in May that the allegations had been addressed and resolved.
SNC-Lavalin has come under close scrutiny around the world since it disclosed in March 2012 that an internal investigation uncovered $56 million in payments to undisclosed agents.
The document led to the departure of former CEO Pierre Duhaime and several other executives. Duhaime and former vice-president Riadh Ben Aissa have been charged with fraud over allegations that $22.5 million was used to win the Montreal super-hospital contract.
Ben Aissa has been jailed for more than a year in Switzerland on alleged corruption, fraud and money-laundering in North Africa.
His brother Rafik Benaissa has filed a lawsuit against SNC-Lavalin, alleging SNC-Lavalin caused him harm by using his brother as a “scapegoat” while protecting its interests in Libya in the face of political change.