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MONTREAL, May 29 (Reuters) - A judge on Wednesday ruled there is enough evidence to send an SNC-Lavalin Group Inc corruption case to trial, as expected, following efforts by the Canadian construction company to reach a settlement that led to a political scandal engulfing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The Montreal-based construction and engineering company said in a statement that it will vigorously defend itself and plead not guilty to the charges following the preliminary inquiry. SNC-Lavalin is facing fraud and corruption charges related to allegations that former executives paid bribes to win contracts in Libya under Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, which fell in 2011.
The company has previously said it is looking at ways to protect its business in the event it loses the case.
“Given the threshold to be met by the prosecution at the stage of the preliminary inquiry, this outcome was expected,” said SNC-Lavalin Chief Executive Neil Bruce in a statement.
“SNC-Lavalin is a completely transformed company. These charges relate to alleged wrongdoings that took place seven to 20 years ago by certain former employees who left the company long ago.”
Trudeau has been dogged by allegations that he and his officials improperly leaned on former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to help SNC secure a negotiated settlement and avoid a criminal trial.
Trudeau has repeatedly denied interfering in the country’s justice system.
The crisis has prompted the resignations of Wilson-Raybould, the Treasury Board president, Jane Philpott, and Trudeau’s closest political aide, Gerald Butts. It also raised questions about Trudeau’s handling of the affair ahead of an October federal election.
Trudeau on Wednesday declined to comment on the ongoing court case involving SNC. But when asked by reporters in Ottawa if he feared SNC Lavalin could move its head office if found guilty, Trudeau said, “we’re always going to try and fight for Canadian jobs in ways that uphold the rules.”
SNC-Lavalin has about 9,000 employees in Canada, including about 3,400 in the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec. Trudeau’s Liberals say they need to pick up enough seats in Quebec in the October election to stand a chance of retaining a majority government.
SNC’s stock was down 3.6 percent in afternoon trading.
Reporting by Allison Lampert, additional reporting by Steve Scherer in Ottawa; editing by Jonathan Oatis, Dan Grebler and Nick Zieminski