Defendant in MUHC fraud trial argues to have charges stayed due to trial delays

A lawyer for Yohann Elbaz, one of five defendants in the MUHC fraud trial, is arguing in court to have charges against his client tossed. Elbaz has been waiting 54 months for his trial to begin, and it won't start until next October.

Lawyer for Yohann Elbaz accused prosecution of poor planning and disorganization

Police allege laywer Yohann Elbaz played a role in the McGill University Hospital Centre fraud case. He was arrested in 2013, but his case still hasn't gone to trial. (Charles Contant/CBC)
The lawyer for one of the defendants in the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) fraud trial — what one police investigator has called "the biggest case of corruption fraud in Canadian history" — argued in court Wednesday to have charges against his client tossed.

Yohann Elbaz is one of five defendants in the case. He's facing charges of conspiracy, recycling the proceeds of crime, and using false documents.

Yohann Elbaz has been waiting 54 months for his trial to begin. It is only scheduled to start next October. (Sûreté du Québec)
His lawyer, Walid Hijazi, is using the Jordan ruling to try and have the charges stayed. In that ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada set a threshold of 30 months as a reasonable delay for getting this type of case to trial.

Elbaz has been waiting 54 months, and his trial isn't scheduled to begin until next October.

The Crown alleges top executives from SNC-Lavalin paid a $22.5-million bribe to MUHC senior administrators to secure the $1.3-billion contract to build the MUHC's Glen site.

Before Quebec court Judge Geneviève Gratton, Hijazi argued in that the delays in the case are almost entirely the fault of police and prosecutors, and that the charges against Elbaz should be stayed.

Hijazi said that the prosecution had initially estimated that the preliminary hearing in the case would last three or four weeks, but in the end it took a year and a half to complete. 

Hijazi accused the prosecution of poor planning and disorganization.

He noted that Elbaz was initially facing 16 charges, and said the majority of those were unfounded — 13 of them were eventually dropped.

Hijazi also noted that police arrested Elbaz and the other suspects before their investigation was complete. He said that led to numerous delays in disclosure of evidence from the prosecution.

His client has paid a personal and professional price due to the delays, he said, and for that reason the charges should be stayed.

Delays due to case's 'particular complexity'

Prosecutor Nathalie Kléber refuted many of Hijazi's points in a document filed with the court.

Kléber argued that most of the delays were attributable to the "particular complexity" of the case.

She noted the case involves bank transactions, intermediaries and foreign money transfers that resulted in thousands of pages of documents being admitted as evidence.

And she noted the case has been affected by many parallel procedures looking at the same matter, including the Charbonneau commission, several lawsuits against SNC-Lavalin, and an investigation by Quebec's securities regulator.

For those reasons, Kléber argued the delays are reasonable and the case against Elbaz should proceed.

Stay of proceedings for the co-accused?

Yohann Elbaz is a lawyer and the brother of Yanai Elbaz, a former MUHC executive also charged in the case along with former SNC-Lavalin executives, ex-CEO Pierre Duhaime, Riadh Ben Aissa and Stéphane Roy.

Their trials aren't set to begin until 2018 or 2019. It's possible they will also file requests to have their charges stayed, based on the Jordan ruling.

Arthur Porter, the former CEO of the MUHC, was also facing charges in the case before his death from cancer in 2015.

At the time, Porter was in jail in Panama, where he was fighting extradition to Canada to face the charges.

Porter's wife, Pamela Porter, pleaded guilty in late 2014 to two counts of laundering the proceeds of crime and was sentenced to 33 months for her role in the alleged bribery scandal connected to the superhospital project.