RCMP probe more SNC officials over alleged bribes

CBC News has learned from a confidential source that RCMP are investigating a number of senior employees of SNC-Lavalin International Inc. over who knew about and who approved alleged bribes paid through a secret accounting system for projects in Africa and Asia.

SNC-Lavalin accountants used hidden system to sign off on African and Asian projects

Former employees of SNC-Lavalin International say the company used a secret internal accounting code to pay bribes on projects. (Canadian Press)

CBC News has learned from a confidential source that RCMP are investigating a number of senior employees of SNC-Lavalin International Inc. over who knew about and who approved alleged bribes paid through a secret accounting system for projects in Africa and Asia.

Two former employees of the SNC division, engineer Mohammad Ismail and vice-president Ramesh Shah, were arrested last year and await trial in Toronto charged with bribing officials in Bangladesh in a failed bid to win a contract involving the Padma Bridge megaproject.

But the source says RCMP are now examining the roles of their bosses and other company employees, including accountants and financial controllers, who signed cheques and approved reams of internal company budgets and spreadsheets made public Wednesday by the CBC and Globe and Mail.

The documents show the SNC division routinely earmarked a hidden percentage of contracts to fund illicit payments to consultants and even public officials in Nigeria, Zambia, Uganda, India, Kazakhstan and elsewhere. In two cases in Nigeria, the documents reveal "PCC" payments or so-called "project consultancy costs" were directed to government officials.

"The real intention of that PCC or CC is [a] bribe," former SNC engineer Ismail told CBC News and the Globe. "It’s included in the financial proposals most of the time. [At the] International division [it is] open from office secretary to senior position. Everybody used this term, and [they] all know what that means."

SNC-Lavalin spokeswoman Leslie Quinton has acknowledged to CBC News that the project consultancy costs were "not legitimate."

Ismail is one of the men awaiting trial in Toronto accused under the Corruption of Public Officials Act of trying to bribe officials in Bangladesh to win a contract on the Padma Bridge mega project. He refused to talk about the case against him, citing a publication ban. 


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But he agreed to review the SNC division materials not before the courts and told CBC News that PCC was a widely used term to describe the funds the company used to pay bribes.

The documents show myriad people were involved in processing the PCC payments:

Company accountant Brijesh Jani still works at SNC-Lavalin and denied knowing what PCC was when reached by telephone, even though he is identified in numerous internal email chains and payment spreadsheets detailing various PCC payouts.

Ramesh Shah, the co-accused in the Bangladesh case, who was the direct supervisor of the SNC division and signed many cheques on projects across Africa, was dismissed by the company and declined to comment for this story.

Kevin Wallace, Shah’s boss, who signed scores of cheques, was dismissed in December 2012 from his post as senior vice-president and general manager overseeing SNC-Lavalin International's division in Oakville, Ont. His lawyer issued a statement saying Wallace "has not been alleged by the RCMP to have broken any laws." Citing civil litigation and the publication ban in the criminal case, he declined further comment.

Manoj Tejpal, a financial controller for SNC-Lavalin based in Montreal, signed several of the cheques and remains with the company, but did not respond to requests for comment.

SNC issued a statement Thursday in response to revelations the RCMP continues to probe its international division.

"We are confident that our research and in-depth investigations are identifying those who have committed behaviours that are unacceptable and that if any others are uncovered, we will act appropriately," wrote SNC-Lavalin spokeswoman Leslie Quinton.

"In the meantime, we find it grossly unfair that those who remain and have been through so much are targeted by the media for having worked alongside those who may have breached the [company's internal] code of ethics."

Legal expert says tougher enforcement discourages foreign bribery

"The engineering and construction industry has historically been notorious for this kind of thing," said Milos Barutciski, who heads the international trade practice of Toronto law firm Bennett Jones and is a director of the watchdog group Transparency International Canada.

Barutciski  said growing numbers of bribery prosecutions in Canada, the U.S. and Europe are forcing global large engineering firms to adopt zero-tolerance policies on paying foreign bribes.

"Do you have to do business that way to succeed? No. Increasingly, companies are becoming more sophisticated and understand that if you succumb to the shakedown you will be branded a payer, and you will always be shaken down."

The Harper government is moving to toughen the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act to make it easier for policing agencies to prosecute bribery, which is extremely hard to prove let alone investigate. The government has proposed amendments to impose maximum prison sentences of 14 years and expressly make it illegal for company accountants and other employees to knowingly reimburse bogus invoices that could be used for kickbacks or bribes.

It will help "ensure that individuals and companies don't "cook the books," said a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

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Dave Seglins

CBC Investigations

Dave Seglins is an investigative journalist whose recent work includes exposés on global ticket scalping, offshore tax avoidance and government surveillance. He covers a range of domestic and international issues, including rail safety, policing, government and corporate corruption.