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Arthur Porter calls $22.5M kickback conspiracy 'impossible'

09/10/2014 03:50 EDT | Updated 11/10/2014 05:59 EST
Arthur Porter calls allegations he masterminded a $22.5 million kickback scheme in Montreal "not only improbable — it was impossible," in a new book written from his Panamanian jail cell.

In The Man Behind the Bow Tie: Arthur Porter on Business, Politics and Intrigue, Canada's former top spy watchdog and ex-McGill University hospital CEO outlines his relationships with Stephen Harper, George W. Bush and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, as well as his work in international business and as chair of Canada's Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC).

Among Porter's claims:

- SNC-Lavalin approached him in 2005 to "consult" on international contracts — long before the engineering company won a $1.4 billion contract to build the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC).

- Prime Minister Harper asked him to lobby developing nations for Canada's doomed attempt to get a seat on the UN Security Council.

- He credits new drugs for his success surviving life-threatening lung cancer.

- He asserts the screening to join SIRC was limited.

- Canada's spies were captured and executed overseas, but it was covered up.

Porter as top CSIS overseer

In the book, co-written with Ottawa-based journalist Jeffrey Todd, Porter recalls an incident when Canadian spies were caught abroad in a hostile country, while taking photos of military equipment.

​"In this case, the Canadians ended up losing their lives," wrote Porter. "They were tortured and hanged. We had to keep the truth of how they died from their families, telling them instead that they fell off a balcony in Dubai, for example.

"None of these incidents ever made the papers, and they were not isolated incidents."

Porter says news media made much of his access to Canada's secrets, but he says most of those secrets were benign, and kept in his CSIS briefcase, which would have destroyed its contents if someone had tried to open it with the wrong combination.

SNC-Lavalin work dates back years

Porter's book recalls his May 2013 arrest and subsequent 16 months in a Panamanian jail, but he denies police allegations he received $11.25 million in secret commissions for rigging the $1.4 billion MUHC contract in SNC-Lavalin's favour.

​"In a way, I was flattered, if amazed, that authorities in Quebec believed I could help mastermind such a process, one that involved so many people and layers of government," wrote Sierra Leone-born oncology specialist, who rose to be a hospital administrator in Canada and the U.S.

He reveals he began doing unpaid consultant work for SNC in 2005. But he insists his business dealings "were overseas," with no conflict of interest as he oversaw, and ultimately helped choose, SNC-Lavalin to build the MUHC in Montreal.

He recalls an August 2011 phone call from the Montreal engineering giant's two main executives — CEO Pierre Duhaime and EVP Riadh Ben Aissa — from Libya just before the fall of the Gadhafi regime. Duhaime, he says, asked him to talk to Moamar Gadhafi's son Saadi, to convince him to ask his father to step down. 

As for payment from SNC, he says the company had “slush pockets” from which he would be paid for various work. "I would be paid in one area, but the expectation was that I would consult as the opportunities arose. 

​"In other words, the payment and work were not always geographically aligned."

​Porter, who is now fighting extradition from Panama, attributes much of his successes to his abilities to network, especially politically. In the U.S. he became a noted Republican fundraiser and friend of President George W. Bush. On arrival in Canada, he says he quickly got involved in the Conservative Party, meeting Prime Minister Harper several times.

"It became very clear to me that the way to Harper’s heart was through the party," Porter writes. "In my view, he put party first, country second. If you had a strategy for boosting the party’s profile and polling numbers, step right inside."

Fighting cancer

He says he first discovered he had cancer in December 2012 when he took a CT scan of himself. He says he sent the results to other oncologists he knew to confirm his worst fears — a  poorly differentiated adenocarcinoma, or lung cancer, commonly found in non-smokers. He believed he had six to nine months to live.

He attributes his survival to aggressive self-treatment, first with a platinum- and taxol-based chemotherapy treatment, and, because he had a genetic marker that exists in four per cent of patients, a localized treatment with a new drug.

"I have terminal lung cancer, and I am fighting to stay alive in an environment far from ideal for my [or anyone’s] health and well-being," he says about writing the book in La Joya prison, one of the world's most notorious. "My entire life has been devoted to climbing, winning and succeeding. But with the end drawing near, it is inevitable that I, like anyone else, wonder if what I have accomplished truly matters.

"I wonder how I will be remembered."

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