Analysis: Nortel case delay highlights Canada crime approach

Tue Jan 17, 2012 5:12pm EST
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By Cameron French and Allison Martell

TORONTO (Reuters) - The years-long delay in bringing three former Nortel Networks executives to trial for fraud has reinforced Canada's well-earned reputation as a laggard in markets enforcement, particularly when compared with the United States, its critics say.

Jurisdictional issues, lack of personnel and a national police task force that has not produced results all contribute to what lawyers and academics say is Canada's dysfunctional approach to prosecuting white-collar crime.

"There is no question that the U.S., if you look empirically, is way better at enforcing these kinds of things," said Ramy Elitzur, a professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.

Nearly eight years has passed since former Nortel Chief Executive Frank Dunn, former Chief Financial Officer Douglas Beatty and former Controller Michael Gollogly were fired from the one-time tech industry heavyweight.

Accused of altering financial statements to ensure lucrative bonuses, they only stepped in court to hear opening statements in their trial on Monday.

If the proceedings last the expected six months, it will prove to be a shorter ordeal than the prosecution of fraud at theatre company Livent, which went bankrupt in 1998, a few years before the U.S. scandals at Enron and WorldCom.

Livent founders Garth Drabinsky and Myron Gottlieb were convicted in 2009, and were not jailed until they lost an appeal last fall. The principles at Enron and WorldCom went to prison more than half a decade ago.

"It does take longer here," said P.M. Vasudev, a law professor at the University of Ottawa. "There is a perception that enforcement on this side of the border is not as rigorous and it is more difficult to secure convictions."   Continued...