On February 19, 2015, the RCMP laid corruption and fraud charges against the SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., its division SNC-Lavalin Construction Inc., and its subsidiary SNC-Lavalin International Inc. under section 3(1)(b) of the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act and paragraph 380(1)(a) of the Criminal Code.

After a string of charges laid against individuals relating to SNC-Lavalin projects in Libya, Bangladesh, and Montreal, these are the first Canadian charges to be laid against the company itself. SNC-Lavalin has stated that the new charges are “without merit” and that it “will vigorously defend itself and plead not guilty.” This suggests that unlike previous high-profile corruption cases against corporations (Niko Resources, Griffiths Energy) which resulted in guilty pleas and settlements, this matter may well proceed to trial and produce the first Canadian case law clarifying the liability of companies for engaging in corruption abroad. (The first Canadian judgment addressing the liability of individuals, R. v. Karigar, was issued in 2013.)

The allegations against SNC-Lavalin are that the three entities offered or paid bribes of C$47,689,868 million or more, directly or indirectly to Libyan government officials, and that the entities defrauded the Libyan government, the “Management and Implementation Authority of the Great Man Made River Project” of Libya, the “General People’s Committee for Transport Civil Aviation Authority” of Libya, Lican Drilling Co Ltd, and the “Organization for Development of Administrative Centers” of Benghazi in Libya of property, money or valuable security or service of a value of approximately C$129,832,830.

The charges relating to SNC’s activities in Libya stem from the RCMP’s “Project Assistance” investigation, which has been underway since 2011. In April 2012 the RCMP executed a search warrant at SNC-Lavalin Group’s headquarters pursuant to a mutual legal assistance request by the Swiss authorities. The Swiss authorities had arrested a former executive vice-president of SNC-Lavalin Group, Riadh Ben Aissa, for money laundering and corruption and in August 2014 reached a plea deal which saw Ben Aissa plead guilty in October 2014 to bribery in exchange for the 29 months of incarceration he had already served and an order to repay millions of dollars to SNC-Lavalin. Two weeks later, Ben Aissa was extradited to Canada, where he is expected to face prosecution on domestic corruption charges in relation to a large public construction project in Quebec.

Three other people have already been charged in relation to the Libya investigation. In February 2014, the RCMP laid charges against Sami Abdellah Bebawi (a former SNC-Lavalin executive vice president) and former financial controller Stephane Roy. Bewabi, who was taken into custody last week, was charged with fraud, bribing a foreign official, money laundering and possession of proceeds of crime. Roy was charged with foreign bribery, fraud and breaking a UN asset freeze. In September 2014, the RCMP laid additional charges against Bebawi for obstructing justice, and against Constantine Andreas Kyres, a Canadian lawyer, for obstructing justice and extortion, alleging that the two men sought to obtain a statement from Ben Aissa while he was detained in Switzerland in exchange for money.