Judge approves deal between SNC Lavalin and prosecution in bribery case

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SNC-Lavalin acknowledged it bribed the head of the corporation that maintains the Jacques bridge to obtain a $128-million contract.

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A Superior Court judge has approved the deal reached between SNC-Lavalin and the prosecution in a case where the engineering firm was charged with paying bribes to obtain contracts to do work on Montreal’s Jacques-Cartier Bridge two decades ago.

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Justice Éric Downs approved the agreement, through which two companies that are part of SNC-Lavalin will pay a total of $29.6 million over the next three years. The judge made the decision on Wednesday after hearing arguments in support of the agreement from several lawyers over the course of two days at the Montreal courthouse.

François Fontaine, a lawyer for SNC-Lavalin Inc., told Downs that the engineering firm no longer resembles the one that became the target of several corruption allegations in past years.

The charges filed last year dated back to events that took place between 1997 and 2004. As part of the agreement, SNC-Lavalin acknowledged that it paid more than $2.3 million in kickbacks to Michel Fournier, the former head of the corporation that maintains the Jacques-Cartier and Champlain bridges, in order to obtain a $128-million contract for refurbishment work on the bridge.

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Quebec’s office of criminal prosecutions (DPCP) offered the company a chance to negotiate a remediation agreement from the outset, and the two sides announced they reached an agreement on Friday.

As part of the written agreement, the two companies will pay a fine of more than $18 million described as “efficient, proportionate and dissuasive.” It will be paid to Quebec’s treasury department and is based, in part, on how the companies made $6 million in profit from the bridge contract. The companies have agreed to pay the fine in six instalments beginning in June 2023.

The companies will also pay $3.4 million to The Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Inc., the Crown Corporation considered to be the victim in the case, as “compensation for the harm caused” by SNC-Lavalin’s “acts of omission.” They also agreed to pay a $5.4 million compensatory surcharge to the provincial government.

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Both of the SNC-Lavalin firms also agreed to continue to follow its Integrity Program. In 2019, the engineering firm agreed to follow the same program when SNC-Lavalin Construction Inc. was sentenced to pay a $280-million fine over a five-year period and to three years of probation for committing fraud “against various Libyan authorities.”

The charges against SNC-Lavalin International Inc. and SNC-Lavalin Inc. and two of their former executives emerged last year as part of an RCMP investigation called Project Agrafe. But the charges involved events that occurred long before it put its integrity program in place.

The two former executives, who are now both over 75 years old, still have charges pending against them. One of the accused has opted to have a trial before a jury.

Fournier, the first person charged in Project Agrafe, pleaded guilty in 2017 to accepting more than $2.3 million in bribes from SNC-Lavalin between 2001 and 2003.

He was sentenced to a 66-month prison term and was granted full parole on April 24, 2019.

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