A Quebec court judge stayed charges of fraud and bribery against former SNC-Lavalin executive Stéphane Roy Tuesday, ruling his right to a trial within a reasonable time had been violated.
Judge Patricia Compagnone said delays caused by the Crown are an example of the “culture of complacency” the Supreme Court of Canada deplored in its 2016 Jordan decision limiting the length of legal proceedings. She added that prosecutors failed to show they tried to avoid unreasonable delays in the case, which began when Roy was first charged in 2014.
Roy, who had been charged in connection with SNC-Lavalin’s dealings with the regime of the late Libyan dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, made a brief statement to reporters outside the courtroom.
“I am ready to take my life back,” he said with tears in his eyes. Roy had been a vice-president and controller at the engineering giant before being fired in February 2012. He was acquitted last July of fraud-related charges in connection with the construction of the McGill University Health Centre.
Prosecutor Frédéric Hivon said the Crown will take the time to analyze the ruling before deciding whether to appeal.
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Compagnone said the bribery charge against Roy stemmed from an allegation that he had plotted with a fellow SNC-Lavalin executive, Riadh Ben Aissa, to smuggle someone out of Libya. An RCMP affidavit filed in relation to its investigation alleged Roy was involved in a plot to smuggle Gadhafi’s son, Saadi, and his family into Mexico as the Libyan regime was failing in 2011.
Roy’s case resulted from the same RCMP investigation that led to charges against SNC-Lavalin, which is accused of paying nearly $48 million to public officials in Libya between 2001 and 2011 to influence government decisions. The company is also accused of fraud and corruption for allegedly defrauding various Libyan organizations of roughly $130 million.
The case against SNC continues to disrupt federal politics following a Globe and Mail report that the Prime Minister’s Office pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to help the engineering firm avoid prosecution. The ongoing scandal led to the resignation Monday of Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts.
Roy’s lawyer Nellie Benoit stressed that her client still enjoys the presumption of innocence.
“It’s a concept that is forgotten these days,” she said.
“A trial is the occasion for the state to prove that someone is guilty. And it is also the occasion for an accused to prove he is not guilty …. Since we have a stay in proceedings, we will never have a decision on this issue. So, Mr. Roy must continue to be considered innocent — until the end of his days.”
The Supreme Court in 2016 set a limit of 30 months between the laying of charges and the anticipated end of a criminal trial in provincial court cases where there is a preliminary hearing. Roy’s case was scheduled to conclude in June, roughly 64 months after he was initially charged. Compagnone said only 99 days of delays in his case could be attributed to the defence.
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Last Friday, a judge stayed proceedings against another former SNC executive and his lawyer, also because delays in the case were deemed unreasonable.
Sami Bebawi, a former SNC-Lavalin executive vice-president, and his Montreal-based tax lawyer, Constantine Kyres, were accused of offering a $10-million bribe to have a key witness change testimony in a fraud and corruption case against Bebawi. The alleged recipient of the offer was Ben Aissa.
Bebawi is still facing charges including fraud and bribery in connection with his former company’s dealings in Libya.