After former justice minister and attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould was shuffled to veterans affairs on Jan. 14, she released a lengthy statement listing her legislative accomplishments in the portfolio and underlining the need for independence.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office attempted to press Jody Wilson-Raybould when she was justice minister to intervene in the corruption and fraud prosecution of Montreal engineering and construction giant SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., sources say, but she refused to ask federal prosecutors to make a deal with the company that could prevent a costly trial.
SNC-Lavalin has sought to avoid a criminal trial on fraud and corruption charges stemming from an RCMP investigation into its business dealings in Libya. Prosecutors alleged in February, 2015, that SNC paid millions of dollars in bribes to public officials in Libya between 2001 and 2011 to secure government contracts. The engineering company says executives who were responsible for the wrongdoing have left the company, and it has reformed ethics and compliance rules.
After the charges, SNC-Lavalin lobbied officials in Ottawa, including senior members in the office of Mr. Trudeau, to secure a deal known as a “deferred prosecution agreement” or “remediation agreement” that would set aside the prosecution. In such deals, which are used in the United States and Britain, a company would accept responsibility for the wrongdoing and pay a financial penalty, relinquish benefits gained from the wrongdoing and put in place compliance measures. “It is unfair that the actions of one or more rogue employees should tarnish a company’s reputation, as well as jeopardize its future success and its employees’ livelihoods,” SNC argued in a brief to federal officials in October, 2017.
But in October, 2018, SNC-Lavalin hit a major obstacle. The federal director of public prosecutions refused to negotiate a remediation agreement that would have resolved the Libyan fraud and corruption charges without prosecution. SNC-Lavalin has asked for a judicial review of the decision, citing “the extremely negative consequences the underlying legal proceedings have had and will continue to have [even in the event of an acquittal] on [SNC] and innocent stakeholders, including employees, suppliers, pensioners and stakeholders, in the absence of an invitation to negotiate.”
Sources say Ms. Wilson-Raybould, who was justice minister and attorney-general until she was shuffled to Veterans Affairs early this year, came under heavy pressure to persuade the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to change its mind.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould was unwilling to instruct the director of the public prosecution service, Kathleen Roussel, to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin, according to sources who were granted anonymity to speak directly about what went on behind-the-scenes in the matter.
The Prime Minister’s Office issued a short statement when asked to comment on efforts to persuade Ms. Wilson-Raybould to intervene.
“Prime Minister’s Office did not direct the attorney-general to draw any conclusions on this matter,” press secretary Chantal Gagnon said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail on Wednesday evening.
Sources say officials from Mr. Trudeau’s office, whom they did not identify, had urged Ms. Wilson-Raybould, Canada’s first Indigenous justice minister, to press the public prosecution office to abandon the court proceedings.
The Public Prosecution Service of Canada’s website says with the exception of Canada Elections Act matters, the attorney-general “can issue a directive to the director of public prosecutions about a prosecution or even assume conduct of a prosecution, but must do so in writing and a notice must be published in the Canada Gazette.”
Ms. Wilson-Raybould trusted the judgment of the public prosecutor and did not believe it was proper for the attorney-general to intervene, especially if there could be any suggestion of political interference, sources say. The Trudeau Liberals had criticized the former Harper government for undermining independent agencies and vowed to respect their decisions. The government has also invoked the independence of the judicial system as a reason for not intervening in the case of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. executive Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested at the Vancouver airport on an extradition request from the United States.
SNC-Lavalin, Canada’s largest engineering and construction management company, is one of Quebec’s biggest corporations and has a reputation for holding political sway in Quebec City and Ottawa.
One well-connected Liberal with close ties to SNC-Lavalin said Ms. Wilson-Raybould “blew off the PMO” requests. The company had told the government it was in dire circumstances and required a suspension of criminal charges to ensure it continued on a solid footing.