MONTREAL — A Quebec judge has ruled there is enough evidence to send SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. to trial on charges of fraud and corruption.
The Montreal-based engineering and construction giant is accused of paying $47.7 million in bribes to public officials in Libya between 2001 and 2011. The company, its construction division and a subsidiary also face one charge each of fraud and corruption for allegedly defrauding various Libyan organizations of $129.8 million.
The decision is the latest step in criminal proceedings that began last fall after SNC-Lavalin failed to secure a deferred prosecution agreement, a kind of plea deal that would have seen the firm agree to pay a fine rather than face prosecution.
“Given the threshold to be met by the prosecution at the stage of the preliminary inquiry, this outcome was expected,” said chief executive Neil Bruce in a statement.
The company has previously pleaded not guilty and Bruce said that “we will vigorously defend ourselves to get the right outcome and be acquitted.”
“SNC-Lavalin is a completely transformed company,” he added. “These charges relate to alleged wrongdoings that took place seven to 20 years ago by certain former employees who left the company long ago.”
Over the past four months, SNC-Lavalin has found itself in the centre of a political controversy following accusations from former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould that top government officials pressured her to overrule federal prosecutors, who had opted not to negotiate a deferred prosecution agreement with the company.
“The director of public prosecution has made a decision in that regard,” said prosecutor Richard Roy, asked by reporters whether SNC-Lavalin could still secure an agreement and sidestep a trial.
Despite the high profile afforded to the case, “SNC-Lavalin will have a fair trial,” he added.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has argued that a criminal trial could trigger the company’s exit to the United States and the loss of thousands of jobs, a sentiment that was supported by an internal SNC-Lavalin document obtained by The Canadian Press.
“We respect the independence of our judiciary and we’re not going to comment on an ongoing court case, but as I’ve said many times, we’re always going to fight for Canadian jobs in ways that uphold the rules,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa Wednesday.
The company is due back in court in Montreal on June 7 to choose a trial by jury or by judge alone. Prior to that, it can opt to apply within 30 days to the Superior Court of Quebec to have Wednesday’s lower court decision quashed.
Companies in this story: (TSX:SNC)
Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press