Day 6

Why Quebec lawyers are struggling to prosecute former SNC-Lavalin executives

As the SNC-Lavalin scandal churns on Parliament Hill, lawyers in Quebec City are having a tough time prosecuting the company's former executives on charges of fraud and bribery.

Charges have been dropped against three former executives in recent weeks

The SNC Lavalin headquarters is seen in Montreal on Tuesday, February 12, 2019. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

As Ottawa remains embroiled in a controversy over whether former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould was pressured to seek a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC-Lavalin, criminal charges against three former executives of the company have been tossed out of court.

Charges against one former SNC-Lavalin vice-president, Stéphane Roy, were dismissed by a Quebec court on Tuesday. Judge Patricia Compagnone cited extensive delays in reaching trial as the reason.

Roy was first charged in 2014 with fraud over $5,000 and bribing a foreign public official in Libya. His case wouldn't reach trial until this May — a 64-month wait.

"The judge said what happened was an example of a reflection of the culture of complacency in the federal prosecutors office," said Montreal-based Canadian Press reporter Giuseppe Valiante.

"This case for him is over."

Roy's case was the second related to fraud and bribery charges laid against former executives at Quebec engineering giant SNC-Lavalin to be thrown out this month.

Former SNC-Lavalin vice-president Stéphane Roy leaves a courtroom in Montreal on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

"It's clear that when you have a more dramatic, political, I guess, theatre in Ottawa, it's much 'funner' to follow. It's much more exciting," Valiante told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

"I think it's these court cases, really, that are the most important because this speaks to our judicial system and our ability to hold people accountable for stealing public money, for bribing public officials and for, I guess, corrupting the business environment in the country."

Plea deal for former CEO

The second case involves SNC-Lavalin's former CEO, Pierre Duhaime, on charges related to the development of the McGill University Hospital Centre superhospital in Montreal.

In the case of Pierre Duhaime, he was charged in 2012 with fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, and forging documents. In a plea deal, 14 of 15 charges against Duhaime were dropped.

Duhaime pleaded guilty to breach of trust on Feb. 1, and was sentenced to 20 months of house arrest, 240 hours of community service, and is required to make a $200,000 donation to a fund that compensates victims of crime.

"What's interesting is that this is not a case that really sparked a lot of public anger," Valiante said. "You didn't really hear that much at all."

It seems that Crown prosecutors are overworked and they're understaffed.- Giuseppe Valiante, Canadian Press reporter

But not all former SNC-Lavalin executives are out of the woods just yet.

Last week, obstruction of justice charges against former VP Sami Bebawi were stayed due, again, to unreasonable delays in reach trial. He still faces charges of fraud and and bribery.

Inadequate resources

According to Valiante, getting these cases to trial has been a challenge as the Canadian justice system is ill-equipped to handle them.

"It seems that Crown prosecutors are overworked and they're understaffed," Valiante told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

They are "very complicated" he said, adding, "it's not as simple as a murder case — you don't have a murder weapon."

Charges against former SNC-Lavalin CEO Pierre Duhaime were dropped, however, in a plea deal, he pleaded guilty to breach of trust and is sentenced to 20 months house arrest. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

"There's money going in through shell companies, money from Swiss bank accounts going in through numbered companies into other bank accounts," he said. "You have to trace that money."

While it seems that the cases involving former SNC-Lavalin employees have mostly met a dead-end, things are looking up in the justice system.

"The Quebec government and Ottawa is hiring more judges," Valiante said. "They're hiring more Crown prosecutors, they're making more room available for cases."

"But it takes time."

To hear the full interview with Giuseppe Valiante, download our podcast or click 'listen' at the top of this page.