A court in the French-speaking province of Quebec ruled that there was enough evidence against SNC-Lavalin for the engineering company to face trial for fraud and corruption.
The decision was made after months of lobbying by the company to avoid prosecution. Last fall, the Montreal engineering and construction giant tried to take advantage of a new legal mechanism – a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) – that would have allowed the company to pay a fine rather than face a criminal trial.
These efforts to influence the government ended up creating a major political scandal in Ottawa when former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned and accused the prime minister’s office of pressuring her to reach an agreement with SNC-Lavalin.
In response, the government denied that it had exerted undue pressure on her, only that they had asked to seek another opinion as to whether to renegotiate are remediation agreement. Earlier, government officials had expressed concern that a criminal trial could mean that the company would withdraw its headquarters from Canada and that thousands of jobs would be at risk.
The company is accused of having paid more than $40 million in bribes to Saadi Gaddafi, the son of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, to obtain national contracts in his country.
SNC-Lavalin is also facing charges of fraud and corruption for allegedly defrauding $129.8 million from various Libyan organizations.
As for now, it continues to challenge the Crown’s refusal to negotiate an out-of-court agreement before the Federal Court of Appeal.
SNC-Lavalin’s lawyers argued that the prosecutor’s evidence did not deserve a trial.
The judgment was subject to a publication ban that prevents journalists from reporting on its content, as well as the evidence on which the judge based his decision.
In a press release, SNC-Lavalin reacted to the decision by stating that it “intends to vigorously contest these charges and plead not guilty in the interest of its employees, partners, customers, investors, retirees and other stakeholders”.
If the company is found guilty, it could face a 10-year ban on obtaining federal contracts.