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Code cracked on SNC-Lavalin overseas bribes

An investigation by Canada’s The Globe and Mail and CBC News has uncovered more dirt on troubled engineering giant, SNC-Lavalin. The investigation uncovered secret accounting codes that had been used for years to indicate bribes for contracts in Asia and Africa.

Code words “PCC” and “CC” were used interchangeably to refer to bribes. According to Mohammad Ismail, a former SNC-Lavalin engineer now awaiting trial in Toronto, the letters referred to “project consultancy cost” or “project commercial cost” but really meant the money would be used to pay bribes.

The Montreal-based company had a separate division, SNC-Lavalin International Inc. (SLII), to deal with the smaller vendors and contracts involved in the large scale projects it was involved in. SLII checkes to vendors often included PCC payments, often amounting to 10% of the total contract value. Documents from 2008 to 2011 show PCC payments to at least 13 companies. SLII has now been dissolved and its employees redeployed to other divisions or fired.

SNC-Lavalin, one of the top five engineering companies in the world, was barred from World Bank-funded projects for ten years because of alleged corruption in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Libya, and Algeria.

The World Bank announced the ban in April.

In June last year, Canadian police arrested SNC-Lavalin executives Ramesh Shah and and Mohammad Ismail and charged them with bribing officials in Bangladesh.

The company later admitted that it conspired to bribe Bangladeshi public officials to win a contract for the World Bank-funded Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project.

In November 2012, Canadian police arrested former SNC-Lavalin CEO Pierre Duhaime for fraud and forgery in connection with at least two projects in Canada.

Another former top executive, Ben Aïssa, was charged by Canadian authorities with fraud and corruption. Police linked him to the tainted bridge project in Bangladesh. Aïssa was already in custody in Switzerland for alleged overseas corruption.

Through cross-debarment agreements, World Bank sanctions are also imposed by the Asia Development Bank, the African Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the Inter-American Development Bank.

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Melanie Lansakara is a researcher for ethiXbase.

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