The son of dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi was paid $160-million in kickbacks for steering major contracts in Libya to SNC-Lavalin, Canada’s biggest engineering and construction company, police are alleging, adding some of it paid for luxury yachts.
An RCMP search warrant document unsealed Friday said the bribes were paid to Saadi Gadhafi by Riadh Ben Aissa, who was then vice-president of Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin. Ben Aissa has since left the company and is now jailed in Switzerland.
In the sworn statement, the RCMP also implicated Ben Aissa and former SNC-Lavalin controller Stéphane Roy in an alleged plot to smuggle Gadhafi and his family to Mexico as the Libyan dictatorship was falling to NATO-backed rebels in 2011.
The 59-page RCMP statement was used last April 11 to obtain a warrant to search the Montreal headquarters of SNC-Lavalin. When the search was executed on April 13, police would not explain what they were looking for. Nor have Swiss authorities explained why they are holding Ben Aissa.
But a partly-redacted version of the warrant application – publicly released by the courts at the request of the National Post, Montreal Gazette and La Presse – shows the investigation was focused on the company’s ties with Gahdafi, Col. Gadhafi’s playboy son.
Aissa has denied any wrongdoing.
Based partly on the results of an investigation by the Swiss, the RCMP document charts a financial web in which tens of millions of dollars flowed from SNC-Lavalin accounts in Canada and the United Kingdom to offshore companies controlled by Ben Aissa. From there, the money was allegedly transferred to other offshore companies controlled by Gadhafi.
“It is alleged that these sums of money were paid as compensation for having influenced the granting of major contracts to SNC-Lavalin Int.,” Cpl. Brenda Makad, a member of the RCMP’s Ottawa-based anti-corruption squad, wrote in the French-language sworn statement.
For example, she wrote, SNC-Lavalin had transferred $11.4-million Euros and $1.65 DEM to a bank account in Malta. The funds were then transferred to accounts in Geneva, Milan and Malta held by a company called Dorion Business Ltd., which was controlled by Gadhafi. The transfer was labelled, “Consultant commissions paid by the Societé Canadienne S&C Lavalin.”
The payoffs “served to buy yachts for the benefit of Saadi Gaddafi,” the corporal wrote. One of the boats, the Hokulani, is a 45-metre super-yacht with two VIP suites, a Jacuzzi, an entertainment room with a flat screen TV and accommodation for 10. It was recently put up for sale at US$28.5-million.
SNC-Lavalin also spent $200,000 decorating Gadhafi’s penthouse suite in Toronto, and Roy paid the condo fees on the property, the RCMP alleged. The company footed the bill for security, hospitality and a private jet when Gadhafi visited Canada.
The police allegations are not criminal charges or evidence but describe the unproven allegations the RCMP presented to a justice of the peace to obtain a warrant to search Lavalin headquarters for evidence. Nonetheless, they are sure to raise fresh questions about how alleged bribery on such a scale was able to take place.
Ben Aissa and Roy were forced out of the company in February after an internal audit uncovered $56-million in payments to recipients who could not be traced. Ben Aissa was later arrested in Switzerland on allegations of fraud, corruption and money-laundering. Pierre Duhaime, the CEO of Lavalin, also left the company and was charged with fraud in November.
The RCMP search in Montreal followed a request for assistance by Swiss investigators probing Ben Aissa and his Swiss lawyer Roland Kaufmann. Ben Aissa allegedly moved money through accounts at a private Swiss bank. A spokeswoman for the Swiss Attorney General said the investigation was continuing.
During the Gaddafi dictatorship, SNC-Lavalin won several contracts in Libya worth hundreds of millions. The RCMP said it was seeking documents on four of them: the Benghazi airport, Great Man-Made River, Benghazi Lake rehabilitation and Gharyan Rehabilitation Institution (Judicial City).
The RCMP alleged Ben Aissa, a Tunisian-Canadian who was based at SNC-Lavalin’s branch office in Tunis, and Gadhafi, an engineer and former professional soccer player, “maintained an amicable and mutually beneficial relationship” that helped the company security contracts.
Work on those projects was suspended in 2011 when rebels began a revolt to unseat the Gadhafi regime. As the rebels advanced on Tripoli, Gadhafi’s Ontario-based bodyguard Gary Peters approached Ben Aissa about organizing a fact-finding mission to Libya, police said.
Ben Aissa directed Peters to Roy, who provided $740,000 to pay for it, police said. The money was paid to Vanier Consulting, headed by mediator Cynthia Vanier of Mount Forest, Ont.
“The Canadian investigation equally revealed that Roy hired Cynthia Vanier and agreed to the transfer of funds needed to discharge a fact-finding mission to Libya,” Cpl. Makad wrote. “But I have reasonable grounds to believe that the real goal of this mission was to plan/facilitate the extraction of Saadi Gadhafi and his family from Libya and to bring them to Mexico using false documents.”
Roy has not been charged with any crimes. Vanier was arrested 14 months ago in Mexico City. Mexican authorities have charged her with conspiring the smuggle Gadhafi, his wife and their two children into the country on fake documents. She has denied the allegations.
After returning from the Libya mission, Vanier and Roy continued to discuss further trips, police said. On Aug. 23, 2011, Roy emailed Vanier a scan of Gadhafi’s passport, the RCMP alleged in the statement. Vanier sent Roy an email on Sept. 1, police said. Attached to it were three Mexican birth certificates for Amira Sayed Nader, Moah Bejar Sayed and Sofia Bejar Sayed. Cpl. Makad said they were fakes manufactured for the wife and children of Gadhafi.