Published: November 05, 2019
Shortly after SNC-Lavalin secured a multimillion dollar contract in Libya in 2007, the son of former dictator Moammar Gadhafi invited a senior executive from SNC-Lavalin to a boat show in Cannes, France.
Riahd Ben Aissa told a Quebec Superior Court jury that he toured the boat show with the younger Gadhafi, who showed a keen interest in luxury yachts.
A short time after Ben Aissa returned to Libya, he received a call from a member of Gadhafi’s staff expressing an interest in a 150-foot yacht that would cost $25 million.
SNC-Lavalin signed a contract with an American firm to build the yacht from scratch, Ben Aissa testified.
A close working relationship with Saadi Gadhafi helped SNC-Lavalin obtain expensive engineering contracts in that country in the early 2000s.
Ben Aissa said he spoke to Saadi Gadhafi about a contract to supply 15,000 concrete pipes to a Libyan state company called the Great Man-Made River Authority.
“I told him it was a major contract and asked for all his support and attention to get this project,” former executive Riadh Ben Aissa testified.
“He made calls and we had meetings in his office in Tripoli.”
The comment was one of several examples in which SNC-Lavalin officials relied on the company’s close ties to the Gadhafi regime to obtain lucrative contracts in the North African country.
In another case, the younger Gadhafi said he would speak to his father to try to make sure SNC-Lavalin obtained a contract.
Ben Aissa was testifying on the third day of the fraud and corruption trial of former SNC-Lavalin executive vice-president Sami Bebawi.
Once SNC-Lavalin received the contract to install pipes in the desert, Bebawi told Ben Aissa they would need permission from Libyan authorities to install a satellite telephone system so foreign workers at the pipeline plant could stay in touch with their families.
“I count on you to take this to the top level of authority in the country,” Bebawi wrote in an email.
When prosecutor Anne-Marie Manoukian asked Ben Aissa what Bebawi had meant in the email, he said that his boss wanted him to get Saadi Gadhafi’s approval to install a satellite phone system.
Ben Aissa, who was arrested 2012 for his role in the dealings, is a main witness for the Crown.
The Crown alleges the firm’s relationship with Saadi Gadhafi led to it developing a new “business model” in Libya: a scheme that involved paying millions in kickbacks and bribes to ensure it kept receiving lucrative contracts. It intends on proving Bebawi, 73, oversaw the dealings and pocketed upward of $26 million through his role.
In testimony Monday morning, Ben Aissa told jurors that he kept his former boss, Bebawi, informed about all his dealings with Gadhafi, including the trip to the boat show in France.
When the firm began incurring losses on a state-led project in Libya, Ben Aissa was tasked with ensuring a claim it filed to recuperate its money was settled. He told jurors Bebawi pressured him to do whatever it took — and pay whoever was necessary — to settle the claim.
Fifty per cent of the claim, the jury heard, was transferred to a new company called Duval Securities Inc. that Ben Aissa registered in the British Virgin Islands. The money was then divided between those involved in getting the settlement done, including Gadhafi.
The Crown said it will prove during the trial that SNC-Lavalin eventually transferred more than $113 million to the new company.
Bebawi has pleaded not guilty to all the charges he faces.
The trial continues on Tuesday.