MONTREAL — An undercover agent was used to flesh out information about a $10-million bribe offered to a key witness in the fraud and corruption case against a former SNC-Lavalin executive, his trial heard Wednesday.
Sami Bebawi faces several charges stemming from the engineering giant's dealings in Libya, and the alleged payoff attempt was made to his former subordinate at the Montreal-based engineering giant, Riadh Ben Aissa.
The undercover agent, whose identity is subject to a publication ban, testified he was assigned to make contact beginning in October 2013 with Constantine Kyres, a Montreal lawyer representing Bebawi.
The agent, posing as a consultant, entered discussions with Kyres over a previously made proposal to pay Ben Aissa in exchange for him changing his story about his financial dealings with Bebawi.
"It's not a question of recanting; our position is unfortunately different from Mr. Ben Aissa's position when it comes to the facts surrounding certain transfers that took place, and we're simply asking Mr. Ben Aissa to acknowledge that our version of the facts is the correct version of the facts," a man identified by the agent as Kyres is heard saying in wiretap audio played in court.
The agent recounted the first face-to-face meeting took place at a boardroom of the Dentons Canada law firm, on the 39th floor of Place Ville Marie in downtown Montreal.
Kyres explained to the agent there was more than a monetary advantage to Ben Aissa siding with Bebawi's version of events. He said that if Bebawi were prosecuted, it could be damaging to Ben Aissa.
"Essentially, additional facts that my client is aware of, that would probably be best left unsaid, and if our client is pursued here in Canada, it won't be left unsaid," Kyres told the agent.
Kyres warned during the face-to-face meeting that if push came to shove, that information could be released.
"It's not just an acknowledgment that funds are owed to him, it's quite a bit more than that," the lawyer said. "Confirming our client's position will keep a lot of other facts under wraps."
Kyres repeatedly sought confirmation that Ben Aissa had indeed hired the consultant, but the agent deflected his queries.
"I've given you 100 per cent faith up until now and I haven't had any confirmation from your client or your lawyers that you actually represent him," Kyres told the agent. "As far as I know, you could be working for the government here, you could be working for a journalist."
"We're passed that now, trust me," the agent reassured him with a laugh.
Jurors heard that the $10 million amount initially offered was reduced to $8 million and then $4 million. The offer was contingent on two separate documents — a sworn statement from Ben Aissa agreeing with Bebawi's explanations to Swiss authorities and another agreeing that Ben Aissa wouldn't return seeking more money.
Ben Aissa has testified earlier in the trial that he refused the offer received through his Swiss attorneys.
"I was offered $10 million in exchange for corroborating the version of Sami Bebawi," Ben Aissa said.
"I refused it," Ben Aissa added. "And I informed the Canadian authorities."
Bebawi, 73, faces eight charges, including fraud, corruption, laundering proceeds of crime, possession of stolen goods and bribery of foreign officials. The Crown alleges Bebawi pocketed $26 million.
He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which involve contracts tied to the Moammar Gadhafi dictatorship. The trial has centred on dealings with Gadhafi's son, Saadi, whose ties made doing business in that country easier. Among the alleged kickbacks to the younger Gadhafi was a $25 million custom-made luxury yacht.
The Crown has called the case one "of international fraud and corruption," with Bebawi driving the business model to obtain lucrative contracts. The prosecution alleges Bebawi received millions of dollars stemming from those deals, which began in the late 1990s.
The prosecution is trying to prove SNC-Lavalin transferred about $113 million to shell companies used to pay people who helped the company collect money and secure contracts. It is alleged that what was left in those accounts was split between Ben Aissa and Bebawi.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2019.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press