John Baird speaks against corruption during Algeria visit

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird speaks out against corruption during a visit to Algeria where SNC-Lavalin is being investigated over charges that it was awarded contracts in exchange for bribes.

Foreign Affairs minister makes visit to country where SNC-Lavalin is being investigated

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, shown with his Algerian counterpart Ramtane Lamamra, said he's encouraged by the changes SNC-Lavalin has made. (Sidali/Djarboub/Associated Press)

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird spoke out against corruption Sunday during a visit to Algeria where SNC-Lavalin is being investigated over charges that it was awarded contracts in exchange for bribes.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his Algerian counterpart in Algiers, Baird said the case involving the Canadian engineering and construction company is not representative of "all Canadian businesses, which give huge importance to ethics," according to Algeria's official state news agency.

Baird later tweeted that "any party who is found to have broken the law will be judged under the law."

But Baird added in another tweet that he indicated in Algiers that SNC-Lavalin now "has new leadership and a new way of doing business, focused on ethics."

"Canadian companies by and large represent Canada well abroad, and we are encouraged by the changes SNC continue to make," Baird tweeted.

Baird said that Canada was determined to fight corruption, and added that his country recently adopted an anti-corruption law.

Baird's spokesman said in an email that the news report of the minister's comments in Algiers "may have incorrectly attributed what the minister said" there and he pointed to Baird's subsequent tweets. He said later he did not have a transcript of the comments in Algiers.

In Montreal, SNC-Lavalin spokeswoman Leslie Quinton said in an email that the company has taken a number of measures over the past year to reshape the company's ethical culture.

She said these include outside expert testing, agreeing to external verification, internal audits and co-operating with authorities on allegations against certain individuals.

SNC-Lavalin's reputation has been tarnished since it disclosed in March 2012 that an internal investigation found $56 million in improper payments were made to undisclosed foreign agents.

Chief executive Pierre Duhaime was "relieved of his duties." He was later charged with fraud over millions of dollars in alleged payments relating to a hospital project in Montreal. During a February hearing, he pleaded not guilty through his lawyer to charges of fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud and issuing false documents.


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