Greed drove former SNC exec's alleged fraud, corruption scheme: Crown

MONTREAL — Summing up six weeks of testimony at the trial of a former SNC-Lavalin executive accused of fraud and corruption, a prosecutor told jurors Monday that greed lies at the root of the accusations.

Sami Bebawi's fate will soon be in the hands of the jury after federal prosecutors made their closing arguments to jurors. The defence is scheduled to plead its case Tuesday.

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Bebawi, 73, is standing trial on five charges including fraud, corruption of foreign officials and laundering proceeds of crime. The initial indictment indicated eight charges, but Bebawi is being tried on just five of them. He has pleaded not guilty.

The prosecution is trying to prove SNC-Lavalin transferred about $113 million to shell companies used to pay people who helped the company collect money and secure contracts in Libya, beginning in the late 1990s.

What remained in the accounts after the kickbacks were paid was split between Bebawi and Riadh Ben Aissa, a former colleague, the Crown alleges, with Bebawi pocketing $26 million.

The alleged kickbacks involved massive contracts won by the Montreal engineering giant for work in Libya during the late Moammar Gadhafi's dictatorship.

The trial centred on interactions with Gadhafi's son, Saadi, who was able to facilitate business dealings in that country. Among the kickbacks to the younger Gadhafi was a U.S.-made luxury yacht — the Hokulani — purchased for $25 million after the company landed a major contract.

"In its simplest expression, this case is about getting lucrative contracts for SNC-Lavalin, regardless of the methods," prosecutor Anne-Marie Manoukian told jurors. She described the case as one of international fraud and corruption, with Bebawi transplanting to Libya a business model that had been used in neighbouring Algeria.

"The undercurrent to this case is greed," Manoukian said. "Shortly after his arrival in 1999, the accused imposed a new business model whereby the ends justified the means." Manoukian noted the Crown's star witness, former SNC executive Ben Aissa, testified he was told as much.

"Mr. Ben Aissa was told: 'Do what you have to do, pay who you have to pay, and the rest is ours to share. Success will be handsomely rewarded,' " the prosecutor recounted.

After choosing not to call any witnesses, Bebawi's lawyers will state their case in final arguments. Manoukian suggested the defence might try to argue the alleged acts occurred without Bebawi's knowledge.

"But why did he get so many emails about the stratagem?" she asked, adding that witnesses testified Bebawi was kept up to speed on dealings.

Ben Aissa, the accused's former subordinate at SNC-Lavalin who turned Crown witness while incarcerated in Switzerland, said he was told by Bebawi that losses on contracts in Libya were unacceptable, and he was to change their fortunes by any means.

The trial also heard of a bribe offer to Ben Aissa to change his testimony to match Bebawi's in an alleged effort to help Bebawi escape charges here.

"I suggest it demonstrates the actions of someone who wants — at all costs — to obtain a favourable declaration that conforms to his own," Manoukian said. "Ask yourself if you don't see someone who at all costs wants to avoid a criminal prosecution .... I submit it's the same motivation as in the beginning in 1999 — the ends justify the means."

Manoukian asked jurors to take stock of the evidence presented, both Ben Aissa's testimony and the documentation and testimony that she said backs it up.

"Look at the entirety of the evidence and ask yourself if it's reasonable that the accused didn't know about the transactions (with the shell company) and the deposits to his account and the accounts under his control," Manoukian said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2019.

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