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Thursday
Nov292012

Quebec police arrest ex-boss of SNC-Lavalin

The former CEO of Montréal-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin was arrested Wednesday for fraud and forgery in connection with at least two projects.

Pierre Duhaime, 58, left the company earlier this year. An internal audit found more than $50 million in payments to middlemen that couldn't be traced to the performance of any services.

The projects weren't immediately identified. One may be a multibillion-dollar contract for the McGill University Health Center.

Another former top executive, Ben Aïssa, was charged with fraud and corruption. Police linked him to a tainted bridge project in Bangladesh.

Aïssa is in Switzerland. The Canadian government said it will move to extradite him back to Canada to face charges.

In June this year, two other executives from SNC-Lavalin were charged in Toronto with  bribing officials in Bangladesh.

Ramesh Shah, 61, and Mohammad Ismail, 48, were arrested after a raid by Royal Canadian Mounted Police on SNC-Lavalin's offices. The raid was part of an investigation of bidding practices for the $1.2 billion Padma Bridge project in Bangladesh.

Canada's Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act makes it an offense to directly or indirectly give or offer a loan, reward, advantage, or benefit of any kind to a foreign public official 'in order to obtain or retain an advantage in the course of business.'

The Financial Post said the SNC-Lavalin case is 'ballooning into the largest corporate scandal in Canada’s history.'

The company paid ex-CEO Duhaime $5 million in severance. His departure was classified as a 'retirement,' according to Canadian Business.

SNC-Lavalin said it is cooperating with investigators. A statement released by the company Wednesday said it has 'voluntarily turned over information that we have to local and other authorities for them to take any actions that they may consider appropriate.'

'We believe that anyone found to have committed any wrongdoing should be brought to justice,' the statement said.

Aïssa is reportedly already in jail in Switzerland as part of a fraud, money laundering, and corruption investigation centered on activities in North Africa.

A Swiss press report said prosecutors there have charged Aïssa with helping SNC-Lavalin pay $139 million in bribes, according to the Financial Post.

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