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Thursday
Oct022014

Swiss court accepts guilty plea from former SNC-Lavalin exec

Riadh Ben Aissa, from an SNC-Lavalin publicity photoSwitzerland's federal crime court accepted a plea deal Wednesday between prosecutors and Riadh Ben Aissa, SNC-Lavalin's former head of construction, and sentenced him to time served.

He has been in prison in Switzerland for 29 months.

Ben Aissa will forfeit $16 million that will go to his SNC-Lavalin. The Swiss court said the company was Ben Aissa's victim.

He had been facing Swiss charges for money laundering, fraud, and corruption.

Approval of the plea deal, first announced in August, should lead to his quick extradition to Canada, where he's also wanted for fraud and bribery.

An affidavit prepared by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in April 2012 tied Ben Aissa to more than $160 million in alleged bribes paid to the son of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in exchange for engineering contracts.

Ben Aissa has also been named in connection with alleged bribes of $22 million SNC-Lavalin paid for a contract to build the $2.4 billion McGill University Health Center in Montreal.

"The Swiss court also ordered Ben Aissa, a Tunisian-Canadian, to forfeit his Paris apartment. His wife will be able to keep a Monaco apartment and a Geneva bank account in her name," CTV News said.

Ben Aissa admitted in his plea that he bribed Saadi Gaddafi in exchange for contracts for SNC-Lavalin, Canada's biggest engineering and construction company. 

He also admitted stealing commission payments intended to be paid to SNC's agents, CTV News said.

The former head of the Montreal hospital, Arthur Porter, was arrested last year in Panama on an Interpol warrant charging him with fraud. He's still fighting extradition to Canada.

In April 2013, SNC-Lavalin was barred from World Bank-funded projects for ten years because of alleged corruption in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Libya, and Algeria

The company's former CEO, Pierre Duhaime, pleaded not guilty in Canada in early 2013 to corruption charges.

SNC-Lavalin has replaced top executives and launched a new ethics and compliance program.

The company's "goal is nothing less than to set a new standard for clean business in the engineering and construction industry," CEO Robert Card told CTV News.

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Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.