An Ontario judge today sentenced Ottawa businessman Nazir Karigar to three years in prison for arranging bribes to public officials in India in a failed bid to win a $100-million security contract from Air India.

Justice Charles Hackland of Ontario Superior Court in Ottawa convicted Karigar in August 2013 for a conspiracy that dates back to 2005-2006.

In Friday's sentencing, Hackland said that had the conspiracy been successful, it promised payouts of millions in cash and stock options.

"This must be viewed as a serious crime," Hackland told the court Friday. "This was a sophisticated and carefully planned bribery scheme intended to involve senior public officials at Air India and an Indian cabinet minister."

Canada's anti-bribery record

  • 1999: Canada passes the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act.
  • 2005: Hydro Kleen Systems Inc. (Alberta) fined $25,000 for bribing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer to help get workers into U.S.
  • 2011: Niko Resources (Alberta) fined $9.1 million for bribing Bangladesh cabinet minister for natural gas drilling rights.
  • 2013: Griffiths Energy International Inc (Alberta) fined $10.35 million for paying a $2 million bribe to a diplomat’s wife to secure oil rights in Chad.
  • 2013: Nazir Karigar becomes the first individual convicted under Canada’s anti-bribery law.
  • 2014: Karigar sentenced to 3 years.

The landmark bribery case is being watched closely by law enforcement and international business observers, as it marks the first sentence handed down against an individual under Canada’s Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act (CFPOA), passed in 1999.

"I think it's an appropriate sentence," said Crown prosecutor Moray Welch. "The deliberate nature of the crime, the huge amounts of money at stake and the rational approach taken by the accused — and the accused in other cases like this — required that a message be sent. If they are caught a prison term will follow."

The maximum Karigar could have received is five years in prison, although the law was recently amended for future prosecutions, raising the maximum to 14 years.

"We're disappointed with that ruling," said defence lawyer Israel Gencher. "He's the first individual who has been found guilty after a trial on this legislation. The judge is well aware that any decision he makes would bear jurisprudential impact on any later decisions." 

Nazir Karigar

Nazir Karigar, left, an Ottawa-area businessman, received a three-year prison sentence Friday for his role in a bribery scheme involving Air India. (Kristy Nease/CBC News)

Three companies have been convicted under the law and each paid a fine.

Landmark case

RCMP assistant commissioner Gilles Michaud said the case establishes important legal precedents as police beef up efforts against foreign bribery.

"It was felt that we weren’t doing enough," Michaud told CBC News, acknowledging his national division is keenly aware of Canada’s anti-bribery track record.

Canada has faced years of criticism from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the watchdog group Transparency International for having "little or no enforcement" against companies paying bribes in developing countries, despite being a signatory to international anti-bribery conventions.

In 2012, Canada’s global ranking improved slightly to acknowledge "moderate enforcement" after the RCMP and Quebec provincial police laid a series of charges against executives of SNC-Lavalin in cases that have yet to come to trial.