May 29, 2019

Judge rules SNC-Lavalin to stand trial on fraud, bribery charges

Nicolas Van Praet | The Globe and Mail

A Quebec judge has ruled that SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. can stand trial on bribery and fraud charges, prolonging the Canadian engineering giant’s legal pain and keeping the case in the public eye in the run-up to this fall’s federal election.

Justice Claude Leblond of the Quebec Court ruled Wednesday that there is enough evidence to move ahead with a trial.

The SNC case has sparked a prolonged political controversy for the federal Liberal government, which has come under fire over accusations Prime Minster Justin Trudeau’s staff applied inappropriate pressure to have then attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould overturn a decision by prosecutors not to reach a settlement – called a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) – with the company.

Ms. Wilson-Raybould was eventually demoted, and then resigned from cabinet altogether. Her successor, David Lametti, told reporters Wednesday that a DPA was still “a legal possibility,” while declining to comment on the case.

Mr. Trudeau has denied applying inappropriate pressure for a settlement, and has said his only concern was with preserving thousands of jobs at risk if the company is found guilty.

“One of the things that is very clear is that we respect the independence of our judiciary and we’re not going to comment on an ongoing court case,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday. “But as I’ve said many times, we’re always going to try and fight for Canadian jobs in ways that uphold the rules.”

Legal experts, as well as the company itself, had predicted this outcome because the threshold required to move past a preliminary inquiry in Canada’s justice system is low. While the judge has sole authority over whether to order a trial or dismiss a case after the evidence is heard at this stage, the prosecution has discretion over whether to continue with a case or drop it.

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But Michel Nadeau, executive director of the Institute for Governance of Private and Public Organizations in Montreal, says the Prime Minister is unlikely to risk striking a deal unless he wins another mandate. “I think it’s dead,” he told Radio-Canada on Wednesday.

The fallout of the government’s handling of the SNC file led to the resignations of the country’s top bureaucrat and Mr. Trudeau’s principal secretary, and saw Ms. Wilson-Raybould and former cabinet minister Jane Philpott ousted from the Liberal caucus.

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