NEWS

Ex-McGill hospital boss Arthur Porter has 15 days to fight extradition

05/28/2013 12:22 EDT | Updated 07/28/2013 05:12 EDT
Former colleagues and associates of Arthur Porter are watching closely as Canadian authorities work to extradite the influential businessman and former head of the McGill University Health Centre following his arrest in Panama on fraud charges.

Porter, the former head of Canada's spy-agency watchdog and one-time MUHC CEO, was arrested by Interpol Monday at 2:30 p.m. at a hotel, according to Panama's national police service.

His wife, Pamela, was arrested on Sunday night at 11:40 p.m. local time shortly after arriving at Tocumen airport near Panama City with Porter.

Although the Sierra Leone-born Porter arrived at the same time as his wife, he avoided being arrested Sunday night by, according to La Presse, telling police he was a diplomat.

He was arrested the next day. He and his wife are currently being kept in separate cells in Panama City.

He now has 15 days to fight extradition.

Local authorities, operating under a "red notice" issued by Canadian authorities, detained Porter and his wife soon after the pair had arrived in Panama.

They were en route to Trinidad and Tobago, an island nation off the coast of Venezuela.

Porter has previously told Canadian media that he was too ill with stage-4 cancer to return to Canada to face the charges against him.

One doctor who worked under Porter at the MUHC says a lot of questions remained after Porter resigned three months before the end of his contract.

"This is the concluding episode of a very long and very sad saga, but I'll be interested to see what happens when he comes to trial," said Dr. David Morris, an MUHC endocrinologist.

Following his early departure from the MUHC, Porter travelled to his clinic in Nassau, Bahamas. It was there that he told media he had diagnosed himself with terminal lung cancer.

The arrests come several months after Quebec police released an international warrant for his arrest, following an investigation into the MUHC's superhospital project.

The pair's arrest was announced in a statement by Quebec's anti-corruption unit (UPAC), which said the operation was carried out with the help of the RCMP, Interpol and Quebec provincial police.

Canada's Department of Justice has started extradition proceedings, but the timeline depends on whether Porter contests the extradition.

René Verret, spokesman for the Quebec Crown prosecutor's office, said the process might only take a few days if Porter does not fight extradition.

Porter faces multiple charges (PDF), including:

- Fraud

- Conspiracy to commit government fraud

- Abuse of trust

- Secret commissions

- Laundering the proceeds of a crime

His wife is facing charges for laundering the proceeds of a crime and conspiracy.

Until his abrupt departure in December 2011, Porter was CEO of Canada’s largest academic health institution, in charge of one of Canada's largest public construction projects, a $1.3-billion so-called superhospital.

Arrest warrants issued for Porter, 4 others

Porter is accused of being at the heart of a scandal involving the superhospital and Montreal engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, the company responsible for its construction.

In February, Quebec’s anti-corruption unit (UPAC) issued arrest warrants for Porter, along with four others suspected of conspiring to defraud the MUHC.

- Yanai Elbaz, former MUHC director

- Pierre Duhaime, former CEO of SNC-Lavalin

- Riadh Ben Aissa, a former SNC-Lavalin employee

- Jeremy Morris, a businessman

About one month later, the MUHC said it was cancelling plans to pave an "Arthur T. Porter Way" onto the hospital property.

A sixth man, Yohann Elbaz, was arrested in April on similar charges.

MUHC spokesman Ian Popple declined to comment on the extent of the case, saying only that "this is a police matter. Justice is following its course. The MUHC continues to co-operate with the authorities."

Less than one month before he left his post at the MUHC, Porter resigned as chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which monitors the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), after his ties to a controversial lobbyist became public.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said Porter's alleged criminal acts had nothing to do with the work he did for the government of Canada.

Porter also has a history with the current leader of Quebec's Liberal Party, Philippe Couillard.

In the past, other party members have questioned Couillard about his relationship with the embattled executive.

Quebec Health Minister Réjean Hébert raised this point today when reached for comment.

"We know that [Couillard] was the best friend of Mr. Porter and he was one of his associates, also, in a company," Hébert said.

"I think Mr. Couillard should explain that relationship he has with Mr. Porter."

But Liberal finance critic Raymond Bachand said on Tuesday he is no longer concerned.

"We've set up UPAC. It shows the efficiency of the means we put in place to combat corruption," Bachand said.

"I am very happy that the police have found the means to go to the ends that we're all wanting as citizens."

MORE:cbcNews