Ethics Inquiry Opened Over Justin Trudeau’s Actions in Bribery Case

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, left, with Jody Wilson-Raybould, the veterans affairs minister and former attorney general, in Ottawa, last month.CreditCreditPatrick Doyle/Reuters

Canada’s parliamentary ethics commissioner said on Monday that he would look into allegations that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau improperly pressured his former attorney general to call off a criminal case against a major engineering company based in Montreal.

The announcement, made in a letter to two members of Parliament, followed several days of allegations that Mr. Trudeau, or members of his staff, improperly tried to force a settlement of charges that the company, SNC-Lavalin, paid millions of dollars in bribes to officials in Libya when the country was ruled by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

The allegations of the push to drop the case first surfaced last week in The Globe and Mail. Citing anonymous sources, the newspaper said that Mr. Trudeau’s office had pressed Jody Wilson-Raybould when she was his justice minister and attorney general to, in turn, pressure prosecutors to use a new law that would allow a “remediation agreement” with the company that would prevent a trial in exchange for paying a penalty.

Whether or not such pressure was brought to bear, prosecutors, who are independent of the government in Canada, have continued to pursue the company in court.

Since the allegations were first reported, Mr. Trudeau has repeatedly denied trying to influence the case. “At no time did I or my office direct the current or previous attorney general to make any particular decision in this matter,” he said last week.

Canadians go to the polls this fall, and members of the opposition parties swiftly pounced on the Globe and Mail report as a sign that Mr. Trudeau’s government was unethical.

Andrew Scheer, the Conservative leader, has speculated several times that Ms. Wilson-Raybould was moved from heading Canada’s Department of Justice to Veterans Affairs, a less prestigious portfolio, in a cabinet shuffle last month as punishment for not calling off prosecutors. Mr. Scheer has provided no support for his claim.

Mr. Trudeau’s government does not deny that the company’s case was discussed at the cabinet level, but has said that such conversations about the problems of a company important to the Canadian economy were not unusual and that no directive to intervene was issued.

The fate of SNC-Lavalin has loomed particularly large in Quebec. If it is convicted of the corruption charges, it would not be able to work on Canadian government contracts for a decade, perhaps crippling the company, which has about 11,500 employees in North America and 23,000 elsewhere.

François Legault, the premier of Quebec, has fretted publicly about the decline in SNC-Lavalin’s share price, which has been partly attributed to the legal uncertainty surrounding the company. He has vowed to block any takeover prompted by that low share price to keep SNC-Lavalin headquartered in Montreal.

In 2014, a former senior executive at SNC-Lavalin pleaded guilty in Switzerland to bribing Mr. Qaddafi’s son, Saadi. Last month, Pierre Duhaime, the former chief executive of SNC-Lavalin, pleaded guilty to “willful blindness” when the company paid 22.5 million Canadian dollars, or about $16.9 million, to hospital managers in Montreal for information it used to win the contract for a new building.

SNC-Lavalin has been running a public relations campaign to gain public support for a settlement to the Libya case, arguing that it had reformed its internal practices and purged its ranks of corrupt executives.

The possibility of a remediation agreement was made possible by a measure introduced by the last budget legislation from Mr. Trudeau’s government. Opposition members criticized the government for burying it within the budget rather than presenting it as separate legislation.

Cameron Ahmad, a spokesman for the prime minister, said in an interview on Monday that the measure was discussed by parliamentary committees.

Mario Dion, the ethics commissioner, said in his letter that he would investigate Mr. Trudeau’s actions under a section of the Conflict of Interest Act that prohibits federal politicians from using their influence to “improperly further another person’s private interests.”

Speaking in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Monday, Mr. Trudeau said he welcomed the inquiry.

“This is an issue that has been much talked about over the last few days, and I think it’s important Canadians continue to have confidence in our system,” he told reporters. He added that in conversations with Ms. Wilson-Raybould last fall, “I told her directly that any decisions on matters involving the director of public prosecutions were hers alone.”

This is the second investigation of Mr. Trudeau by the ethics commissioner’s office. In December 2017, the previous commissioner found that he broke the law by accepting a helicopter flight for his family to a private island owned by the Aga Khan, the billionaire philanthropist and spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims.

Ms. Wilson-Raybould, who was Canada’s first Indigenous justice minister, has not commented on the allegations. Bill Wilson, her father, like Mr. Scheer, has suggested that she was bounced from the justice job because of the SNC-Lavalin case.

But Mr. Trudeau rejected those suggestions on Monday and affirmed his support for Ms. Wilson-Raybould.

“Her presence in cabinet should speak for itself,” Mr. Trudeau said.


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