10/01/2014 11:54 EDT | Updated 12/01/2014 05:59 EST

Riadh Ben Aissa, Former SNC-Lavalin Exec, Pleads Guilty In Switzerland


MONTREAL - A Swiss court has accepted a guilty plea from a former SNC-Lavalin senior executive, who was accused of fraud, corruption and money laundering, and labelled the Montreal-based engineering and construction company as a victim.

The Federal Crime court of Switzerland accepted a deal reached Aug. 4 and sentenced Riadh Ben Aissa, SNC's former head of construction, to the 29 months he's served in jail and ordered him to repay millions of dollars to the company.

The charges stem from SNC-Lavalin's business in Libya. Ben Aissa acknowledged in court that he bribed Saadi Gadhafi, son of Libya's late dictator Moammar Gadhafi, so SNC could win contracts. Ben Aissa also admitted to pocketing commissions.

The conviction paves the way for Ben Aissa's extradition to Canada, where he is accused of fraud worth an estimated $22.5 million involving the McGill University Health Centre, one of Canada's largest infrastructure projects.

SNC-Lavalin didn't disclose how much it will recover from Ben Aissa, but media reports said US$14 million. The Tunisian-Canadian will also forfeit a Paris apartment, but his wife will keep a Monaco apartment and a Genevan bank account in her name.

CBC reported that Swiss prosecutors dropped an embezzlement charge because it wasn't clear to what extent SNC-Lavalin knew of the payments to companies held by Ben Aissa for his own benefit.

SNC-Lavalin said it was pleased that the court recognized it was "an injured party" that will recover money from the jailed former executive.

The engineering giant said it also reserves the right to seek additional funds from Ben Aissa after he is extradited back to Canada.

The company has undergone a complete overhaul since the problems surfaced, replacing top executives and launching an ethics and compliance program to ensure it does business with integrity.

"SNC-Lavalin's goal is nothing less than to set a new standard for clean business in the engineering and construction industry," stated CEO Robert Card.

Ben Aissa is the first SNC-Lavalin executive to be convicted with bribery and corruption-related offences stemming from activities in Libya, Bangladesh, Algeria and Montreal.

Several former employees face fraud charges in Canada, including former SNC chief executive Pierre Duhaime.

Arthur Porter, the former head of the MUHC, remains in a Panama jail fighting extradition to Canada on accusations that he conspired with Ben Aissa so SNC could win the hospital contract in exchange for a $22.5 million bribe.

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