MONTREAL – A former SNC-Lavalin executive allegedly paid the son of dictator Moammar Gadhafi $160 million in kickbacks to obtain major contracts in Libya, according to an unsealed affidavit from the RCMP’s anti-corruption squad.
The RCMP affidavit used to obtain a search warrant of the engineering giant’s Montreal headquarters last year said some of the money was paid for luxury yachts.
The search warrant document, which was later resealed, said the bribes were paid to Saadi Gadhafi by former SNC vice-president Riadh Ben Aissa, who is now jailed in Switzerland. He has denied any accusations.
The document also implicated Ben Aissa and former SNC-Lavalin controller Stephane Roy in an alleged effort to smuggle Gadhafi’s son and his family to Mexico as the Libyan regime was failing in 2011.
Cpl. Brenda Makkad of the RCMP’s Ottawa-based anti-corruption squad wrote in a sworn statement that Ben Aissa transferred 11.4 million euros and other funds to a bank account in Malta which ended up in various Dorion Business Ltd. accounts controlled by Saadi Gadhafi and labelled “consultant commissions paid by the “Societe Canadienne S&C Lavalin.”
She said the payoffs were used to buy yachts, including a 45-metre luxury vessel that was recently put up for sale.
SNC-Lavalin was also accused of spending $200,000 decorating Gadhafi’s Toronto penthouse as well as paying condo fees. It also allegedly paid for security, hospitality and a private jet when Gadhafi visited Canada.
The embattled engineering giant said it only learned this week about some of the details contained in the affidavit and couldn’t confirm the veracity of the new information. It is reviewing the document to see what actions it may take and vowed to act swiftly to address damages to the company and its interests if the allegations are proven.
“We are eager for this situation to be resolved in the courts and will continue to do everything in our power to assist the authorities to get to the bottom of these issues as rapidly as possible,” it said in a statement Friday.
SNC-Lavalin (TSX:SNC) says the affidavit contains some unspecified information that it voluntarily provided to authorities in March.
Ben Aissa, Roy and former CEO Pierre Duhaime left the company last February after an internal audit uncovered $56 million in payments to foreign agents, some of which allegedly was used for the Montreal superhospital contract project. SNC has always maintained these funds were never diverted to Libya.
Duhaime was charged with fraud in November.
SNC-Lavalin has taken a number of steps to improve its governance and requirement that employees adopt ethical behaviour.
On Thursday, it disclosed the hiring of former Watergate investigator Michael Hershman as an independent compliance adviser to SNC’s president. He will complement the work of former FBI director Louis Freeh’s risk management company, which has been assessing the progress of the implementation of the company’s ethics and compliance program.
Maxim Sytchev of Alta Corp Capital said details in the affidavit will reignite investor concerns about the company, but it doesn’t change his view of SNC-Lavalin’s business prospects under new management and with $1.1 billion of cash on hand.
“Libya is an old train wreck,” he said in an interview.
“Unfortunately, we’re just seeing the repercussions of that relationship right now but ultimately the company’s not doing work in that geography.”
SNC-Lavalin removed $900 million worth of Libyan projects from its backlog in 2010 amid the civil war in the North African country.
Sytchev said investors have faced a flow of negative news about the company’s actions for nine months that caused its stock to collapse.
It wasn’t immediately clear if details from the affidavit will have any impact on two class-action lawsuits in Ontario and Quebec that are seeking more than $1 billion on behalf of disgruntled shareholders.
The suits allege that SNC-Lavalin violated securities law by misrepresenting that it had adequate controls and procedures to ensure accurate disclosure and financial reporting.
They claim, among other things, that a 2009 prospectus offering $350 million of debentures failed to contain “full, true and plain disclosure of all material facts.”
The lawsuits arose from alleged payments made by SNC-Lavalin to members, associates and agents of the Gadhafi regime to secure contracts for infrastructure projects in Libya.
SNC-Lavalin’s name was also raised this week during testimony before the Charbonneau commission looking into corruption in the construction industry.
Genius Conseil president Michel Lalonde said a number of major engineering firms — including global giant SNC-Lavalin — participated in a collusion scheme to raise the price of construction projects in Quebec.
His incendiary testimony suggested that big, even publicly traded, engineering firms were complicit in the cartel-like practices previously ascribed to lower-level construction companies in that province.
Lalonde said the group of companies selected him as a go-between with Montreal city officials, and he pointed at firms of varying sizes as participants in the system including: SNC-Lavalin, Dessau, CIMA, Genivar (TSX:GNV), Tecsult, SM, BPR and Roche.
He said the companies were expected to cough up donations to the city’s governing political party.
On the Toronto Stock Exchange, SNC-Lavalin’s shares closed at $44.88, down 25 cents in Friday trading.