BUSINESS

Former Bangladesh minister denies any role in SNC-Lavalin bribes in contract

05/15/2013 12:12 EDT | Updated 07/15/2013 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - A former Bangladesh government minister hopes an impending trial in Toronto of former SNC-Lavalin executives accused of bribery will help clear suspicions he solicited bribes to favour the engineering company.

"I think I will get some justice from the Canadian court," Syed Abul Hossain told The Canadian Press.

The former communications minister has not been charged, but reports in Bangladesh have suggested he was supposed to receive four per cent of the value of the SNC-Lavalin contract. Other officials were said to share another six per cent of the contract which Hossain said was worth about US$35 million.

Ramesh Shah, 61, of Oakville and Mohammad Ismail, 48, of Mississauga have been ordered to stand trial on attempted bribery charges in relation to the six-kilometre Padma bridge project in Bangladesh. A preliminary hearing in his case was held last month, details of which are subject to a publication ban.

They were arrested last year after the RCMP raided a SNC-Lavalin office in Oakville, Ont., in September 2011 at the request of the World Bank.

The former SNC-Lavalin employees are slated to return to court May 29.

Hossain, who was minister between January 2009 until May 2011, denied he awarded the contract to SNC-Lavalin in exchange for bribes.

"At the end of the day, when everything will be completed, I think they will find me very clean," he said in an interview from Dhaka.

Hossain insisted he had no role in the choice of the project's engineering supervisor other than to present the selection results to the cabinet procurement committee. The process was conducted by department officials, he said.

The former minister said he twice met with officials from SNC-Lavalin, including the two accused.

But, he said, no solicitation or offer of bribes took place and similar meetings took place with representatives from Britain and Japan.

Hossain says he was unaware about alleged improprieties by SNC-Lavalin in other countries, but said he was concerned about the firm because of its prior performance on power projects in Bangladesh.

The former minister's comments came as published reports said the Montreal-based company used a special code to account for bribes on several projects across Africa and Asia.

The Globe and Mail and CBC reported Wednesday the company paid "consultancy costs" between 2008 and 2011 to win several development contracts.

The payments are described as PCCs — project consultancy cost or project commercial cost.

Ismail, who agreed to examine the documents obtained by CBC and the Globe, was quoted in the reports as saying the real intention was to bribe.

The World Bank had exposed SNC's use of the term PCC in relation to the Bangladesh bridge project.

The Globe and CBC reported SNC-Lavalin International, which has been barred from bidding on World Bank projects for 10 years over projects in Bangladesh and Cambodia, included "consultancy costs" in 13 projects.

The embattled engineering company (TSX:SNC) said the allegations Wednesday have been resolved and are history.

"Our focus is on moving ahead with systems in place so such accusations cannot be made again," spokeswoman Leslie Quinton said in an email.

She said the company has been addressing issues raised by investigations and to "identify and get to the root of non-compliance matters."

Hossain said he was maligned by the World Bank and called the statements made about his role in the project "hearsay," saying no one has testified under oath that he made such a demand.

"The World Bank made a big injustice to me and they damaged my reputation," he said.

Hossain said rumours in Bangladesh have suggested somebody made a request for payment on his behalf.

"If anybody demanded anything on behalf of me I do not know, but if that happens, I should not be held responsible for that one."

SNC-Lavalin was awarded the contract after a low bid by British company Halcrow was later deemed incomplete.

The World Bank later suspended its $1.2 billion loan over alleged irregularities with the project bidding.

The Bangladesh Anti Corruption Commission refused to put Hossain on a list for investigation as requested by the World Bank, citing the lack of evidence, he said.

Robert Card, SNC-Lavalin’s new CEO, recently said the firm accepted the World Bank disbarment even though it never tested the veracity of the accusations because it is a non-judicial body.

SNC-Lavalin's reputation has been tarnished since it disclosed in March 2012 that $56 million in improper payments were made to undisclosed foreign agents.

Chief executive Pierre Duhaime was "relieved of his duties" and later charged with fraud over $22.5 million in payments relating to a hospital project in Montreal. During a February hearing, he pleaded not guilty through his lawyer to charges of fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud and issuing false documents.

Former vice-president Riadh Ben Aissa has been held in a Swiss jail for more than a year, was also charged with fraud in Canada.

Ben Aissa was arrested in April 2012 in Switzerland on suspicion of corruption, fraud and money-laundering in North Africa, in part related to Saadi Gadhafi, son of the late Libyan dictator.

Ben Aissa's brother, Rafik, has filed a $5-million lawsuit in Quebec Superior Court alleging the company caused him harm for using his brother as a "scapegoat" while protecting its interests in Libya in the face of political change.