Lamarre, who ran the Montreal-based firm from 1996 to 2009, went to Switzerland in recent months under a legal agreement that allowed him to answer questions from Swiss investigators but guaranteed him safe passage back to Canada, according to sources in Canada and Switzerland contacted by CBC/Radio-Canada and Swiss broadcaster RTS.
It was the same protection given to Sami Bébawi, a former SNC executive in charge of international construction, who flew to Geneva last week for interviews with Swiss authorities.
It was unclear at this point why the two indicivuals would require safe passage agreements.
CBC/Radio Canada contacted Lamarre's office but questions about his discussions the Swiss were referred back to SNC-Lavalin. The company would not discuss it citing the on-going investigation.
"We continue to cooperate with authorities in various investigations," SNC-Lavalin spokeswoman Leslie Quinton said in an email Thursday. "We … cannot get into any further details."
The two men who succeeded Lamarre and Bébawi, Pierre Duhaime and Riadh Ben Aïssa, have both been arrested.
Duhaime was arrested by Quebec's Anti-Corruption unit early Wednesday at his home in Montreal and charged with fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud and use of false documents stemming from allegations surrounding the $2.3 billion McGill University Health Centre.
Ben Aïssa is also wanted in connection with the hospital project, but he has been in a Swiss jail since April awaiting trial on charges of fraud, money laundering and corrupting a public official tied to projects in North Africa.
The various investigations involve $195 million in payments by SNC that went to "commercial agents" in both Canada and North Africa. The revelations have some questioning what kind of oversight structure existed at the troubled company.
"Let's face it — SNC has done a great deal of work in environments that are known for corruption and unethical business practices," said Rick Powers, senior lecturer on business law and ethics at Rotman School of Business in Toronto.
"[The SNC board] had to be asking these questions. And if they were, obviously they accepted the answers from management, or perhaps they didn't ask the questions and dig deep enough.
"That's the big issue for me from a governance point of view."
The Swiss police investigation is focused on $139 million of payments that went through the divisions known as SNC-Lavalin International, monies paid to two companies registered in the British Virgin Islands which had bank accounts in Switzerland, a joint investigation by CBC/Radio-Canada and RTS has revealed.
Police have interviewed other executives at SNC International including Michael Novak, its chairman, who was questioned by Swiss authorities in April when the RCMP searched SNC's Montreal headquarters. Police also spoke to Novak's predecessor, Klaus Triendl, along with Marie-Josée Bérubé, Ron Denom and Anthony Rosato.
Swiss investigators also hope to question Stephane Roy, a vice president/controller who worked closely with Ben Aïssa, and was forced to resign with him in February.
Interviewing company personnel does not imply any guilt, but authorities are trying to determine who had signing authority for such large movements of money.
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