Canada’s prime minister has denied that there has been political interference with efforts to prosecute engineering giant SNC-Lavalin over alleged breaches of anti-corruption laws.
Giving evidence to the Canada’s House of Commons justice committee, former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould has alleged she experienced “consistent and sustained” political interference in her decision over whether to offer SNC-Lavalin a deal which would protect it from a trial.
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has rebutted the claim. He has said his government always acted appropriately and wanted to protect the 9,000 jobs at the firm.
SNC-Lavalin has been accused of involvement in fraud and corruption in Libya several years ago. It denies the allegations, but federal charges have been laid.
A successful prosecution could result in the firm being barred from working for the Canadian government for 10 years, putting jobs at risk.
The firm could avoid a trial, if it signs up to a deferred prosecution agreement, under which it could accept a penalty such as a fine. SNC-Lavalin, which now owns Atkins in the UK, wants to negotiate such an agreement.
Wilson-Raybould claimed she experienced inappropriate pressure to offer the firm a deferred prosecution agreement, although so far the firm has been told it will not be allowed to go down this route.
She told the justice committee on Wednesday: “For a period of approximately four months between September and December 2018, I experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada in an inappropriate effort to secure a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin.”
But after her testimony Trudeau hit back. He said: “I strongly maintain, as I have from the beginning, that I and my staff have always acted appropriately and professionally. I therefore completely disagree with the former attorney general’s characterisation of events.”
Trudeau said that the government would always focus on jobs and the economy, and 9,000 jobs could be at risk over the issue. He added that the government acted appropriately and the decision about whether negotiate a deferred prosecution agreement was the former attorney general’s and “her’s alone”.
Political opponents have called for his resignation over the matter.
Trudeau’s most senior advisor, Gerald Butts recently resigned after becoming embroiled in the political interference claims. He says he has now said that he also wants to talk to the justice committee.
Last week, SNC-Lavalin chief executive Neil Bruce pointed out that in this row the firm had done nothing wrong, has never asked for charges to be dropped or anything to be circumvented outside the judicial system.
He said a deferred prosecution agreement would result in individuals brought to justice and innocent employees, pensioners, shareholders and the supply chain protected.
“At the moment we believe the opposite is happening at I just don’t think that’s fundamentally fair,” he said.
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