Updated: John Baird speaks out over corruption during Algeria visit

ALGIERS, Algeria – Canada’s foreign minister is distancing himself from SNC-Lavalin, the Canadian engineering and construction company being investigated over corruption charges in Algeria.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his Algerian counterpart in Algiers, John Baird said: “This company does not represent all Canadian businesses, which give huge importance to ethics … It is obvious that they must pay for their actions through the courts.”

SNC-Lavalin (TSX:SNC) is charged with awarding contracts in Algeria in exchange for bribes.

Baird said that Canada was determined to fight corruption, and added that his country recently adopted an anti-corruption law.

SNC-Lavalin’s offices in Algeria were raided in May by police seeking information about alleged corruption that has engulfed the North African country.

Algerian media say police were investigating an $825-million contract SNC-Lavalin won in 2005 to build a power plant.

The company said that it hoped the raid would help to shed light on a global corruption scheme that has sullied the Canadian engineering company’s reputation.

Spokeswoman Leslie Quinton said the company had been deceived about a lot of things from certain ex-employees.

An internal investigation uncovered $56 million in payments to undisclosed foreign agents. Former chief executive Pierre Duhaime was “relieved of his duties”‘ and was later charged with fraud involving $22.5 million of payments to the construction of a Montreal hospital.

After Baird’s comment on Sunday, Quinton said in an email to The Canadian Press that the company was “certain that Minister Baird did not intend to intimate that SNC-Lavalin does not care about ethics.”

She said the company has taken a number of measures over the past year to reshape the company’s ethical culture that include outside expert testing, agreeing to external verification, internal audits and co-operating with authorities on allegations against certain individuals.

“SNC-Lavalin is very proud of the incredible progress it has made over the past 18 months, which has been verified by credible third parties,” she said

“There is absolutely no company in Canada that is more concerned about ethics nor that has spent more time and efforts on developing compliance and governance programs that are according to the best professional standards anywhere.”

Updated: Baird later tweeted his response to this story:

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