Thursday, December 19, 2019

SNC-Lavalin guilty plea achieves pretty much what a DPA would have

Well, l'affaire SNC-Lavalin petered out with something of a whimper yesterday as the company's construction division pled guilty to a charge of fraud related to its activities in Libya back in the early 2000s. It will pay a $280 million fine (which many analysts consider unexpectedly cheap), and is subject to a three year probation order. This comes just days after the former SNC-Lavalin executive Sam Bebawi was convicted for his personal part in the fraud.
The other, potential more damaging, charge of bribery under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act was dropped, and the company thereby avoided a criminal prosecution that might have resulted in the company as a whole being barred from bidding on federal contracts for 10 years (this, under a OECD anti-bribery comvention that Canada signed onto in 2012). This would have been a potentially ruinous outcome for SNC-Lavalin, and one that Prime Minister Trudeau and many others in the Liberal caucus were keen to avoid, if only because of the huge employment footprint the company carries. Justice has seen to be done, everyone can breathe a sigh of relief, and the company can now pick up the pieces and resume business as usual. SNC-Lavalin shares surged with the news.
Sounds a mite cynical perhaps, but such is the nature of big business. These kinds of legal cases and deals are being entered into all the time. In the end, Mr. Trudeau was not able to swing his preference for a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) for the company. But the net result was actually pretty similar - a fine, a bit of probation, and business as usual.
So, arguably most the political unpleasantness of the last year could have been avoided by allowing the company the take advantage of a DPA. But a certain MP, now sitting as an independent, decided to go nuclear on principle (or in promotion of her own political career, depending on your outlook and your level of cynicism), which probably also cost the Liberals their majority in the last election. In the end, Ms. Wilson-Raybould did not really get what she wanted either, even though she got her way at the time. And at what cost? Her loyal sidekick, Jane Philpott, definitely did not get what she wanted as she lost her seat completely at the last election.
Personally, I'm still not convinced that the PM exceeded his authority - the ethics commissioner's report notwithstanding -  and I'm still not entirely sure about Ms. Wilson-Raybould's motives. Neither am I convinced that the best interests of the country were served by her crisis of conscience. But anyway, it's all over now. Can we please get on with the important stuff.

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