Two former SNC-Lavalin executives charged in Ontario with corruption

MONTREAL – Two former SNC-Lavalin executives are scheduled to appear in a Toronto court Monday to face charges under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act in relation to a bridge project in Bangladesh.

Ramesh Shah, 61, of Oakville and Mohammad Ismail, 48, of Mississauga were arrested Feb. 20 and formally charged in April, RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Lucy Shorey confirmed Friday.

They have made several court appearances since then.

Shah had been a vice-president and Ismail was director of international projects at SNC-Lavalin in Toronto.

It wasn’t immediately clear why the national police force did not previously disclose the charges against the former employees of the embattled engineering giant (TSX:SNC).

The law targets people who “in order to obtain or retain an advantage in the course of business, directly or indirectly gives, offers or agrees to give or offer a loan, reward, advantage or benefit of any kind to a foreign public official or to any person for the benefit of a foreign public official.”

It prohibits people from trying to “induce the official to use his or her position to influence any acts or decisions of the foreign state or public international organization for which the official performs duties or functions.”

The maximum penalty laid out in the law is five years of prison, making it an extraditable offence. Judges have the discretion to impose any fines with no maximum.

It was not possible to immediately obtain more details on the nature of the conduct that is alleged to have occurred.

SNC-Lavalin spokeswoman Leslie Quinton said the company hasn’t been charged and she’s not aware if other former employees face charges or have left SNC-Lavalin in relation to issues in Bangladesh.

The RCMP raided a SNC-Lavalin office in Oakville, Ont., last September at the request of the World Bank, which is investigating a bridge contract that was never awarded in the South Asian country.

The accusations of bribery prompted the World Bank to suspend a US$1.2-billion loan and temporarily barred the SNC-Lavalin subsidiary from bidding on other contracts in the country.

Confirmation of the charges come a day after a Bangladesh newspaper reported that Bangladesh’s anti-corruption commission is investigating allegations that SNC-Lavalin offered large bribes to at least six influential Bangladeshi officials, including two former government ministers, to obtain the lucrative bridge contract.

The Dhaka Daily Star said it obtained the information from unnamed sources within the commission who allegedly had access to evidence gathered by the RCMP during an investigation launched at the request of the World Bank.

Shorey said Friday the RCMP’s international anti-corruption squad only gave the commission public information. She also pointed to inaccuracies in the newspaper’s report, without elaboration.

The Daily Star — billed as the largest English daily by circulation in Bangladesh — said SNC-Lavalin allegedly offered “huge bribes” to obtain a consultants contract overseeing the construction of the 6.5-kilometre bridge over the Padma river (called the Ganges River in India).

The paper reported it did not obtain the size of the bribes allegedly offered.

One of the officials allegedly bribed by the Montreal-based company was then communications minister Syed Abul Hossain, who now heads the department of Information and Communications Technology.

The others are former state minister for foreign affairs Abul Hasan Chowdhury; former secretary of the bridges division of the communications ministry Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan; Rafiqul Islam, ex-director of Padma Multipurpose Bridge project, along with three businessmen working on the project.

The Daily Star said RCMP investigators could arrive in Bangladesh in the coming days to share details and collect more information from the commission. Police officials did not comment Thursday.

Bhuiyan and Hossain denied any wrongdoing.