Published: November 06, 2019
A key witness in Sami Bebawi’s fraud and corruption trial says he was once offered $10 million in exchange for more favourable testimony that could protect the former SNC-Lavalin executive vice-president.
Former executive Riadh Ben Aissa told jurors Tuesday he received the offer from Bebawi’s counsel while detained in Switzerland. He had been arrested in 2012 for his own role in the company’s Libyan dealings.
Ben Aissa said he was offered the money to make his eventual testimony match a version of events Bebawi had previously given Swiss authorities.
“I refused it,” Ben Aissa said of the offer. “And I informed Canadian authorities about it.”
In her opening statement last week, Crown prosecutor Anne-Marie Manoukian said the trial will eventually hear recordings of conversations about the offer. The jury, she added, will then realize “just how far Mr. Bebawi was willing to go” to avoid legal consequences.
Bebawi, 73, faces charges of fraud, bribing a foreign public official and possession of property obtained by crime, including two amounts of roughly $15 million and $12 million.
His trial has so far focused on SNC-Lavalin’s attempts to create a relationship with former dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s son, Saadi Gadhafi, in order to recuperate money it was losing through a state-led project in Libya.
The Crown alleges the firm’s relationship with Gadhafi led to it developing a new “business model” in the North African country: a scheme that involved paying millions in kickbacks and bribes, including to Gadhafi, to ensure it kept receiving lucrative contracts.
The gifts culminated with the firm agreeing to buy Gadhafi a $25-million yacht.
Throughout his testimony, Ben Aissa has emphasized that Bebawi pressured him to do whatever it took and pay whoever was necessary to ensure the firm recuperated the money it was losing on the project.
That pressure, he testified, led him to develop the firm’s relationship with Gadhafi.
After spending 30 months in detention, Ben Aissa pleaded guilty in Switzerland to charges of corrupting a foreign official and laundering money. He also signed an agreement to co-operate with Canadian authorities while detained.
He left the company in early 2012. Asked Tuesday if he was in contact with Bebawi between the time of his departure and his arrest, Ben Aissa recalled one phone call in particular.
“He was all panicked and he was threatening to commit suicide,” Ben Aissa said.
Bebawi, he added, was worried about two companies that had been created to allow SNC-Lavalin to pay bribes to partners in Libya and bonuses to executives without the firm being linked back to the transactions.
“He told me I absolutely needed to handle the situation so we wouldn’t be impacted by what was happening,” Ben Aissa said. “I was really surprised. What I figured out later, since I was arrested, was that he had information I didn’t have.”
Ben Aissa was later extradited to Canada to face charges in the McGill University Health Centre superhospital fraud scandal. He told jurors that case ended with him pleading guilty to one charge of using forged documents.
The trial continues Wednesday with the defence cross-examining Ben Aissa.