December 18, 2019 / 8:02 PM / 2 months ago

UPDATE 3-Canada's SNC-Lavalin settles Libya bribery case that shook Trudeau government

(Adds comments from analyst and lawyers)

By Allison Lampert and Kelsey Johnson

MONTREAL/OTTAWA Dec 18 (Reuters) - A division of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc pleaded guilty to fraud and will pay a C$280 million fine, the company said on Wednesday, in a case related to projects in Libya that engulfed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government in crisis.

The construction and engineering company reached a settlement after being accused of bribing Libyan officials to get contracts between 2001 and 2011.

As part of the deal, all charges against SNC-Lavalin Group and its international marketing arm were withdrawn, SNC said in a statement, sending its shares up nearly 20% in afternoon trading.

SNC-Lavalin Construction pleaded guilty to one fraud charge. It will also pay a C$280 million ($211 million) fine in equal instalments over five years, and will be subject to three years of probation, the parent company said, adding that it would also engage an independent monitor as part of the probation.

“This is a game-changer for the company and finally allows us to put this issue behind us,” said SNC-Lavalin CEO Ian Edwards, who also apologized in the statement.

AltaCorp analyst Chris Murray called the penalty significant but noted it was lower than the C$500 million he had estimated.

Federal prosecutor Richard Roy told reporters that a fine as high as C$280 million “has been rarely given in Canadian history,” adding that it reflects the severity of the crime.

SNC-Lavalin Construction admitted that between 2001 and 2011 it directed millions to the son of late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to secure contracts for the unit.

The case triggered a political crisis for Trudeau, and raised fears of Canadian job losses, as a conviction would have barred SNC-Lavalin from bidding on government contracts for a decade.

SNC lawyer François Fontaine told reporters that the deal leaves the firm “free to bid as normal” on public contracts. The dropping of bribery charges against SNC-Lavalin would also allow it to continue bidding on international contracts, he said.

Trudeau’s government, re-elected with a minority in October, faced allegations that top officials pressured former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to direct prosecutors to strike a deal rather than go ahead with a trial.

SNC-Lavalin had asked for a deferred prosecution agreement on the grounds it had removed the executives who were in charge at the time and overhauled its ethics and compliance systems.

Wilson-Raybould tweeted on Wednesday that “accountability was achieved”.

($1 = 1.3301 Canadian dollars)

Additional reporting by David Ljunggren Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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