US & Canada

SNC-Lavalin division pleads guilty to fraud over Libya activities

An SNC-Lavalin logo in Montreal Image copyright Reuters
Image caption SNC-Lavalin is a Montreal-based engineering and construction firm

A division of Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin has pleaded guilty to a single fraud charge related to its Libya dealings between 2001 and 2011.

The plea comes as part of a settlement that saw other charges faced by the Montreal-based company withdrawn.

The firm's construction division will pay a C$280m ($213m; £163m) fine and faces a probation period.

The case embroiled Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a political crisis last year.

In August, a federal ethics commissioner found Mr Trudeau had breached ethics rules by improperly trying to influence a former minister in the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould had accused Mr Trudeau and his staff of spending months trying to convince her that taking SNC-Lavalin to trial would cost Canadians jobs, and their party votes.

Mr Trudeau has maintained that he was looking to protect jobs after the company warned a conviction at trial risked damaging its business.

The company and two of its subsidiaries were facing fraud and corruption charges in relation to bribes offered to Libyan officials between 2001-11.

SNC-Lavalin had openly lobbied for an agreement that would allow it to avoid prosecution and instead face alternative penalties. It has said it had cleaned house and changed its ways since 2012.

What is the background?

In 2015, SNC-Lavalin and two of its subsidiaries - SNC-Lavalin Construction and SNC-Lavalin International - were charged with corruption of a foreign public official and fraud.

In a statement of facts filed in the Court of Quebec on Wednesday, the company admitted that over the course of a decade almost C$48m ($36m; £28m) was directed to Saadi Gaddafi, one of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's sons.

In exchange for the payments, Mr Gaddafi used his influence to secure construction contracts for the benefit of SNC-Lavalin's construction division, "altering the competitive bidding process and causing a loss or a risk of loss to the Libyan people", according to a statement from the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

Amounts totalling over C$73m were also paid through two representative companies to two former SNC-Lavalin executives, Ben Aissa and Sami Bebawi "for their personal benefit".

Aissa pleaded guilty in Switzerland in 2014 to charges that included corruption, fraud, and money laundering.

A Quebec jury found Bebawi guilty of fraud, corruption of a foreign public official, laundering proceeds of crime and two counts of possession of proceeds of crime on 15 December.

What is the reaction?

SNC-Lavalin is one of the world's largest engineering and construction companies and employs some 9,000 people in Canada.

The company said it did not anticipate the case having any long-term adverse affect on its overall business.

"This is a game changer for the company and finally allows us to put this issue behind us," said SNC-Lavalin president Ian Edwards in a statement.

"I apologise for this past misconduct and welcome the opportunity to move forward."

Trading of the firm's stocks was briefly halted on the Toronto Stock Exchange prior to the news.

The head of the public prosecution service, Kathleen Roussel, praised the federal prosecutors for their work "in the face of unprecedented public attention".

More on this story