Former SNC-Lavalin executive funnelled $160-million to Gadhafi son, RCMP says

MONTREAL AND TORONTO — Globe and Mail (includes correction)

A pedestrian walks past the SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., headquarters in Montreal, in this file photo. (© Christinne Muschi / Reuters/REUTERS)

Riadh Ben Aissa did not merely approve of alleged bribes. The former SNC-Lavalin executive masterminded an intricate system for rewarding Saadi Gadhafi with more than $160-million in bribes in exchange for engineering contracts in Libya, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police alleges.

What’s more, one of Mr. Ben Aissa’s juniors plotted to smuggle the son of the late Colonel Moammar Gadhafi – described as a “friend” of Mr. Ben Aissa – from Libya to Mexico as political unrest was threatening the North African dictatorship, federal investigators say.

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These allegations are contained in a 59-page affidavit police used to obtain a search warrant they executed on SNC’s corporate headquarters in Montreal in April, 2012, as part of a sweeping criminal investigation under Canada’s foreign bribery law that involves police in this country and anti-corruption investigators in Switzerland.

The fortune that was allegedly funnelled to Saadi Gadhafi was used, in part, to buy two yachts, pay condo fees and renovate his luxury Toronto penthouse at a price tag of $200,000. One of the yachts, a champagne-coloured vessel known as the Hokulani, is 150 feet and features a private movie theatre.

The lavish gifts and payments were meant to help SNC land contracts in Libya, RCMP Corporal Brenda Makad alleged in the sworn statement. “It is alleged that these funds were paid to him as a reward for influencing the awarding of major contracts to SNC-Lavalin International,” she stated. Crown prosecutors agreed to release a redacted portion of Corporal Makad’s affidavit Friday after The Globe and Mail applied to have the material unsealed.

The engineering firm declined to answer questions about how so much money could have possibly been transferred to Mr. Ben Aissa from SNC’s accounts in Canada and in the United Kingdom without triggering any concerns. Some of the payments were labelled as “consulting commissions paid by Canadian company SNC-Lavalin,” the affidavit states.

In a statement SNC said there were details in the affidavit it was learning for the first time. “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,” the statement reads. “The affidavit is being closely reviewed to determine what course of action SNC-Lavalin may take as a consequence.”

Mr. Ben Aissa left SNC almost a year ago, at the same time as Stéphane Roy, a former controllor whom investigators describe as Mr. Ben Aissa’s accomplice – and whose house the Mounties also searched in April. Mr. Roy has not been charged with any crime, and the allegations in the affidavit have not been tested in court. Mr. Ben Aissa has been jailed in Switzerland since April without charge. He was arrested under suspicion of money laundering and bribery in North Africa. In Canada, in a separate case, he is accused of defrauding the McGill University Health Centre in relation to the construction of its new health-care facility.

The affidavit, the first official glimpse into a scandal that has shaken investor confidence and prompted two class-action lawsuits against SNC, shows that police are scrutinizing events as far back as 2001, when SNC signed major contracts with the Libyan government for work on the ambitious Great Man Made River project.

At that time, SNC had launched an aggressive marketing campaign in the Middle East and North Africa. The campaign was kick-started with a four-country tour by the firm’s then chief executive, Jacques Lamarre, and Mr. Ben Aissa’s predecessor as head of construction, Sami Bebawi.

Over the next decade, as SNC continued to win contracts in Libya for other infrastructure projects – an airport, a prison, a pipeline and other work on the Great Man Made River – the company made numerous multimillion-dollar transfers to Swiss bank accounts used by Mr. Ben Aissa, the executive overseeing SNC’s operations in Libya.

In one particular incident in 2007, the affidavit states, a Swiss lawyer who represented Mr. Ben Aissa paid a $2.5-million bill for a yacht that was purchased for Mr. Gadhafi through a company registered to him in the British Virgin Islands.

The affidavit also shows that the RCMP suspects Mr. Roy, one of Mr. Ben Aissa’s juniors, took part in an alleged scheme to extract Saadi Gadhafi and his family from Libya during the height of that country’s revolution in 2011.

Since November, 2011, a Canadian mediator, Cynthia Vanier, has been incarcerated in Mexico on allegations that she conspired to smuggle Mr. Gadhafi to the resort town of Puerto Vallarta.

As Libyan rebels extended their push across the desert country in July, 2011, Mr. Roy enlisted Ms. Vanier to embark on what they called a fact-finding mission to Libya, where SNC’s many projects had been abandoned. The affidavit states that SNC-Lavalin financed the 10-day trip, which cost more than $740,000, and also included a security detail led by Saadi Gadhafi’s long-time bodyguard, a Cambridge, Ont., man named Gary Peters.

In the days before she left, Ms. Vanier sent an e-mail to Mr. Roy suggesting that, if SNC wanted to disassociate itself from the mission, there was a way to do that, but that it would be costly, the affidavit states. In that same e-mail, she wrote that the mission could include an option for extraction, “which would be $500,000 only if needed.”

(Ms. Vanier has disputed law enforcement’s interpretation of her use of the word “extraction,” arguing that the reference was to an emergency situation, where they might need to extract her or someone else because of the instability in Libya at that time.)

A follow-up trip to the war-torn country was planned for the fall. In late August, Mr. Roy e-mailed Ms. Vanier a copy of Saadi Gadhafi’s Libyan passport, as well as an old Canadian visa that had once been issued to Mr. Gadhafi, the affidavit states. A week later, Ms. Vanier sent an e-mail to Mr. Roy with three Mexican birth certificates, which the RCMP alleges was part of the plot to smuggle Mr. Gadhafi and his family out of Libya. “I have reason to believe that the birth certificates are false documents that were created to give out new identities to Saadi Gadhafi’s partner and their two children,” Corporal Makad states.