Former SNC-Lavalin CEO Pierre Duhaime pleads guilty
Pierre Saint-Arnaud, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, February 1, 2019 10:21AM EST
Last Updated Friday, February 1, 2019 5:24PM EST
MONTREAL -- Former SNC-Lavalin CEO Pierre Duhaime will serve 20 months of house arrest after pleading guilty Friday to a single charge in connection with a bribery scandal around the construction of a $1.3-billion Montreal hospital.
Duhaime was the last defendant in a major corruption and fraud case involving the McGill University Health Centre project. His trial on 16 charges including fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, using forged documents and breach of trust had been scheduled to start Monday.
He pleaded guilty to helping a public servant commit breach of trust, and Quebec court judge Dominique Joly accepted a joint recommendation from the Crown and defence that Duhaime receive a 20-month sentence. Duhaime, 64, was also sentenced to one year of probation and 240 hours of community service.
He has been ordered to donate $200,000 to a centre that aids victims of crime. His lawyer provided a receipt to the court showing the donation has already been made.
An agreed statement of facts presented to the court said Duhaime was wilfully blind to one of his employee's efforts to extract inside information as SNC-Lavalin competed for the lucrative hospital construction project.
The statement said Duhaime did not receive any money from the crime. It added that he was not connected to and had no knowledge of the $22.5-million in bribes paid to then-CEO of the MUHC, Arthur Porter, and his right-hand man Yanai Elbaz.
But Duhaime did speak to Elbaz by phone once, contrary to the contract tendering rules, the statement said. And he "implicitly acquiesced" in an employee's successful efforts to obtain privileged information from Elbaz.
"He chose to look the other way," Crown prosecutor Robert Rouleau said outside the courtroom. "He let it go, and that produces his criminal participation in the breach of trust that was being committed."
Elbaz, a former MUHC senior manager, pleaded guilty in December to accepting a bribe and was sentenced to 39 months in prison. Former SNC-Lavalin executive Riadh Ben Aissa pleaded guilty to a charge of using forged documents last July and was sentenced to 51 months in prison.
Duhaime left SNC-Lavalin in March 2012 after an independent review found he had approved $56-million in payments to undisclosed agents.
His lawyer, Michel Massicotte, said the Crown case against his client fell apart because a key witness was found not to be credible. "We made our arguments to the Crown and they had the wisdom ... to listen to our arguments and not wait for the trial," he said outside the courtroom.
In the agreed statement of facts presented in court in Elbaz's case, the former MUHC official admitted to giving privileged information to SNC-Lavalin to help its submission for the contract to build a massive hospital complex in west-end Montreal. Elbaz also admitted to denigrating SNC's competitors in front of the hospital's selection committee.
Elbaz and Porter, who died a fugitive in Panamanian custody in 2015, received a total of $22.5 million to rig the bidding process to favour SNC-Lavalin.
Porter created a shell company that received the bribe money. Elbaz then created his own shell company and received his share of the cash, the document said. Elbaz admitted that all the money in the shell companies was proceeds of crime.
Police raided the MUHC's offices in September 2012. The following February, Quebec's anti-corruption unit issued warrants for the arrests of Duhaime, Ben Aissa, Elbaz and Porter. Porter's wife, Pamela, was arrested later and in 2014 pleaded guilty to laundering the proceeds of crime.
Duhaime's house arrest comes with strict conditions. He cannot leave his home during the first six months except in an emergency. For the next seven months, he will have a curfew from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., except for Christmas and New Year's Eve. For the final seven months he is not required to be at his home, but there are other restrictions on his movement.
Massicotte said the sentence is a serious one. "If someone thinks that the gentleman leaves light-hearted, his feet up by the fireplace laughing at the system, they are sorely mistaken," he said. Duhaime declined comment as he left the court.