RCMP charge U.S., U.K. execs in Air India foreign bribery case
Charges will test Canada’s power to prosecute foreigners in case that sent Ottawa man to prison
The RCMP have charged two Americans and one British businessman with attempting to bribe public officials in India as part of a landmark prosecution that has already sent an Ottawa-area businessman to prison for three years.
Investigators with the RCMP’s National Division announced Wednesday bribery charges against Robert Barra and Dario Berini, the former CEO and COO of Cryptometrics Inc., the U.S. parent company of Cryptometrics Canada, which is based in Ottawa. U.K. national Shailesh Govindia, who worked with Cryptometrics, faces two charges, including bribery and fraud.
Last month, Nazir Karigar of Ottawa, was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in a conspiracy to pay kickbacks to public officials at Air India, including a government minister, in a failed bid to win a $100-million contract for security and facial recognition technology for the affiliated Canadian and U.S. tech companies.
RCMP targets officials outside Canada
"We have a mandate to investigate domestic and international allegations of corruption of foreign public officials. This investigation demonstrates the RCMP’s commitment to combatting international corruption, said Gilles Michaud, the RCMP assistant commissioner who heads the National Division, in a news release Wednesday.
The news has been welcomed by watchdog groups, which in the past have been critical of the RCMP and Canada over a perceived lack of action against corporate corruption.
"It is important to send the message that anyone who conspires to bribe foreign public officials, where there is a connection to a Canada, will face justice in Canada," forensic accountant Peter Dent told CBC News. Dent, who chairs the watchdog group Transparency International Canada, said his organization is pleased with today's news.
"No matter of their nationality and location ... corruption is a scourge to global business and economic development," Dent said. "It is a global problem and Canada must play its part."
A previous RCMP attempt to reach outside of Canada using the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act failed. In April, a judge in Toronto stayed a bribery charge against Abul Hasan Chowdhury, who once served as interior minister in Bangladesh. Justice Ian Nordheimer ruled that since Canada has no extradition treaty with Bangladesh "Canada does not currently have jurisdiction" over the man for the time being.
Chowdhury was charged with conspiring with a number of executives of the Canadian engineering giant SNC-Lavalin to rig the bid for a contract to oversee construction of Bangladesh’s $3-billion Padma Bridge.
The criminal case against SNC officials accused in the case has yet to go to trial.
Cryptometrics used bribery spreadsheets: court
The Cryptometrics-related charges could see Canada request extradition of the three accused from Britain and the United States to face trial in Ontario.
Some of the Crown’s case is already public stemming from the court sentencing of Karigar last month.
He was convicted after a former Cryptometrics Canada engineer named Robert Bell co-operated with authorities and testified in return for a promise of immunity.
The court heard about a series of meetings between company officials in the U.S., Canada and India involving spreadsheets, payment schedules and plans to offer millions in potential bribes if the company won the Air India deal.
Company officials even invented a second fake company to submit a similar but higher priced bid in an effort to make Cryptometrics’ proposal more attractive, the court heard.
The bribery conspiracy fell apart due to infighting, but not before Cryptometrics Inc. (USA) wired $200,000 to Karigar’s bank account in Mumbai, according to the court judgment.
The three newly charged in the U.S. and Britain have had no opportunity to respond to the allegations against them.
CBC News reached Berini at his office in Washington, D.C. He was unaware of the charges laid today in Ottawa and declined any comment when told he was accused of criminal bribery by the RCMP.