November 26, 2012 / 11:19 PM / 6 years ago

Canada's SNC says Swiss police likely reviewing payments

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada’s SNC-Lavalin Group Inc (SNC.TO) said on Monday that Swiss police were likely reviewing payments made to two companies it had retained for projects in Libya between 2001 and 2011 as part of a broader investigation into a former SNC executive.

Canada’s largest publicly traded engineering and construction company said it could not confirm media reports that a former SNC vice president, Riadh Ben Aissa, had been indicted on allegations that he had laundered money in connection with $139 million in payments by SNC.

Swiss public broadcaster RTS said that investigators were tracking funds that flowed from SNC to the Swiss bank accounts of Dinova International Inc and Duvel Securities Inc.

Prosecutors have also charged Geneva-based lawyer Roland Kaufmann with money laundering and corruption, and accused him of helping Ben Aissa set up the companies, which are registered in the British Virgin Islands, according to the report.

SNC, whose CEO resigned earlier this year in the fallout from a corporate misconduct scandal, confirmed that it retained Dinova and Duvel as commercial agents in connection with projects in Libya.

The Montreal-based company, which conducted an internal audit earlier this year into millions of dollars of payments that it could not track down, said its review did not focus on any specific payments to the two companies.

“Subsequent to the independent review, we learned that all or certain payments made to those companies were likely being reviewed by Swiss authorities in their investigation,” SNC spokeswoman Leslie Quinton said in an email.

“We have provided information and documentation to the appropriate authorities and this includes the information we had on Duvel and Dinova.”

SNC is unaware of any evidence that funds paid to the companies were misused, but reserves the right to recover any money that was misused, she said.

Shares of SNC fell 2.2 percent to close at C$40.63 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Monday. The stock has shed some 25 percent of its value since the company announced in February that Ben Aissa and a vice-president of finance had abruptly left.

The RTS report puts pressure on SNC’s stock because it points to larger payments made over a longer period of time than those uncovered in SNC’s internal audit, said RBC Capital Markets analyst Sara O’Brien in a note.

Chief Executive Pierre Duhaime resigned in March after the company’s probe showed he had authorized $56 million in payments to unknown agents on nonexistent construction projects in 2010 and 2011.

Ben Aissa was arrested in Switzerland in April on suspicion of money laundering and corruption of public officials.

The Tunisian-Canadian executive, who was in charge of SNC’s international construction projects, was a key link to the former Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported.

Canadian police are investigating the mysterious payments along with bribery allegations against SNC executives involving a $1.2 billion bridge project in Bangladesh.

The World Bank has suspended its loan for the development and temporarily banned an SNC subsidiary from bidding on its contracts in the country.

SNC has handed over information from its internal probe to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, whom reports say are now involved in the Swiss investigation.

Reporting by Susan Taylor; editing by Matthew Lewis

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