The high-profile corruption prosecution of two executives and the alleged intermediary to a foreign government has ended dramatically after a judge excluded the wiretap evidence collected by the RCMP. The defendants – Kevin Wallace & Ramesh Shah, both former Vice-Presidents at SNC-Lavalin, and Zulfiquar Bhuiyan, a dual Bangladeshi-Canadian citizen – were charged under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act for bribes allegedly paid by SNC-Lavalin to secure a contract to supervise construction in Bangladesh.
The construction project was to build a multipurpose bridge connecting the southwestern region to the rest of Bangladesh.  It was intended to stimulate economic growth by allowing transport of passengers, freight, natural gas, telecommunications and electricity. The project was forecast to cost approximately $2.9 billion and was funded, in part, by a $1.2 billion credit from the World Bank.
The Canadian investigation started after a World Bank investigator provided information obtained from four tipsters to the RCMP. The tipsters alleged SNC-Lavalin was in the process of bribing Bangladeshi officials to secure the contract to supervise construction. The RCMP never met any of the tipsters, but spoke with one by telephone. The information provided by three of the four tipsters was obtained from other sources, but the RCMP never spoke with the tipsters’ other sources where identified. The RCMP used information from the tipsters to obtain authorization to wiretap the private communications of the three defendants. The information gathered on the wiretap led to the charges being laid.
Intending to challenge the wiretaps, the defence applied for a third party production order to compel senior investigators of the World Bank to appear before a Canadian court and produce documents. The trial judge granted the applications. The decision was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Court overturned the trial judge’s decision. The Court held that the World Bank did not waive its immunity by voluntarily providing information to Canadian law enforcement officials accordingly, its documents were immune from production. Further, the Court found the documents requested were not relevant to the challenge of the wiretaps.
The defence subsequently brought a successful application to exclude the wiretap evidence. Justice Nordheimer found that the two preconditions for a wiretap – (i) reasonable and probable grounds to believe an offence is or has been committed and (ii) investigative necessity – were not met and the wiretap should never have been granted. On the first criterion, Justice Nordheimer noted that the RCMP relied almost entirely on information provided by the tipsters. In his view, that information was not sufficient to provide reasonable and probable grounds because it was not compelling, credible or corroborated. He was particularly critical of the reliability of the information. He wrote:
The fact that a particular investigation may be difficult, does not lower the standard that must be met in order to obtain a [wiretap] authorization. Reduced to its essentials, the information provided in the ITO was nothing more than speculation, gossip, and rumour. Nothing that could fairly be referred to as direct factual evidence, to support the rumour and speculation, was provided or investigated. The information provided by the tipsters was hearsay (or worse) added to other hearsay.
On the second criterion for a wiretap, Justice Nordheimer found that the RCMP failed to establish there were no other reasonable ways to investigate the allegations.
Justice Nordheimer concluded that the wiretap should not have been issued, and the evidence gathered by wiretap violated the defendants’ Charter rights to be free of unreasonable search. Accordingly, he excluded all of the private communications intercepted from the evidence at trial. The Crown admitted that it had no reasonable prospect of conviction without the wiretap evidence. The prosecutor decided not to call any evidence, and all three defendants were acquitted.
This was certainly not the end that Canadian prosecutors envisioned to a case the World Bank described as “a high-level corruption conspiracy among Bangladeshi government officials, SNC-Lavalin executives, and private individuals” that was proven by “credible evidence corroborated by a variety of sources.” The collapse of the Canadian case was caused, in large part, by deficiencies in the RCMP’s preliminary investigation. Investigators appear to have taken insufficient steps to vet tipster information before seeking authorization for wiretaps. This failure rendered the wiretap evidence inadmissible. This case underscores the importance of the preliminary stages of the investigation and highlights opportunities for defence counsel seeking to exclude evidence obtained by wiretaps authorized primarily on the basis of tipster information.