Corruption, fraud trial of former SNC-Lavalin employee reveals Libyan connection

Former SNC-Lavalin vice-president Sami Bebawi enters a courtroom in Montreal on Friday, February 15, 2019.
Former SNC-Lavalin vice-president Sami Bebawi enters a courtroom in Montreal on Friday, February 15, 2019. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

The fraud and corruption trial of a former SNC-Lavalin employee heard Friday how the son of the late Libyan dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, helped the Montreal-based engineering firm collect money from a lucrative construction contract in the African country.

Sami Bebawi, 73, faces eight charges including fraud, corruption, laundering proceeds of crime, possession of stolen goods and bribery of foreign officials in connection with construction contracts tied to the Gadhafi dictatorship during the late 1990s.

Bebawi has pleaded not guilty. His trial is scheduled to last six weeks.

Prosecutor Anne-Marie Manoukian told the jurors on Thursday the trial “is a case of international fraud and corruption.”

She said the accused worked to obtain lucrative contracts in Libya by paying bribes.

Manoukian said Saadi Gadhafi, the son of the former dictator, was one of the people who benefited from the bribes.

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The prosecution’s main witness, Riadh Ben Aissa, who used to work for Bebawi in one of SNC-Lavalin’s divisions, continued his testimony Friday. He was arrested in Switzerland in 2012 and signed an agreement to collaborate with the prosecution.

Ben Aissa testified about a contract SNC-Lavalin had with a company tasked with piping water to coastal Libyan cities. SNC-Lavalin wanted the company, the Great Man-Made River Authority, to pay extra costs related to the project but it refused, he said.

SNC-Lavalin wanted $100 million from the river authority. Ben Aissa said both Bebawi and Jacques Lamarre, the CEO of the engineering giant at the time, put “enormous pressure” on him to collect the money.

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Ben Aissa said a contact put him in touch with Saadi Gadhafi in Tripoli. The men developed an affinity for each other and even shared a meal together in Rome.

Ben Aissa testified that he “passed on” his bosses’ message to Saadi Gadhafi. “I told him: ‘we absolutely have to settle this because if we don’t, it will be the end of us in Libya.”’

The witness said Saadi asked all sides in the conflict to gather in the Libyan town of Sirte for negotiations. Ben Aissa said no one was permitted to leave until a solution had been reached.

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Eventually both sides came to a deal, Ben Aissa said, with the river authority agreeing to a handsome payment.

Ben Aissa also testified how SNC-Lavalin took steps to purchase a 50-metre yacht that included a helicopter pad for Saadi. He added that the dictator’s son often visited Canada.

The prosecution is trying to prove SNC-Lavalin transferred about $113 million to a company called Duvel Securities. Ben Aissa said he was behind the company.

The money was used to pay people — including Saadi Gadhafi — who helped the company collect money and obtain contracts. What was left in Duvel’s accounts was split between Ben Aissa and Bebawi, the witness said.

Ben Aissa’s testimony is to continue Monday.