OTTAWA: The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development is monitoring the allegations the Liberal government tried to influence a criminal prosecution against SNC-Lavalin to determine whether Canada is violating its commitment to an international anti-bribery convention. The OECD’s working group on bribery said in a statement that it is “concerned’’ by accusations that Trudeau and staff in his office tried to get former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to let the Quebec engineering giant negotiate a remediation agreement rather than pursue the firm on criminal charges of bribery and fraud.
It’s keeping an eye on the twin federal investigations of the allegations, the group said, including one by the House of Commons justice committee. SNC-Lavalin is accused of bribing Libyan officials between 2001 and 2011 to win business there. Meanwhile, opposition MPs erupted in fury on Wednesday after the Liberals used their majority on the House of Commons justice committee to delay an opposition attempt to call Jody Wilson-Raybould to testify again on the SNC-Lavalin affair.
The meeting was called as an emergency session by the three Conservatives and one New Democrat MP, after the Liberals used their majority last week to put off having the discussion on future witnesses until March 19. The Liberals, with five MPs to the opposition’s four, prevailed. The discussion on future witnesses, including Wilson-Raybould, will now be next week, in private. Canada is one of 44 nations that in 1999 signed the legally binding Anti-Bribery Convention, which established international standards to criminalize the bribery of foreign officials so nations would punish their own citizens and companies for trying to undermine governments elsewhere. The OECD working group monitors the implementation and enforcement of the convention. It wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office to express its concerns about the SNCLavalin matter and says it is interested in the investigations by the justice committee and the federal ethics commissioner.
It says Canada has pledged to update the group on the matter at the working group’s June meeting. The statement says Canada’s commitment under the convention is to “prosecutorial independence in foreign bribery cases,’’ and that political factors such as national economic interests and the identities of the company or individuals involved should have no influence on the prosecution. Adam Austen, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, said Canada “firmly supports’’ the OECD and noted Canada was a founding country in the Anti-Bribery Convention. Wilson-Raybould says multiple people from Trudeau’s office, the finance minister’s office and the Privy Council Office all put sustained, improper pressure on her to change her mind and she believes she was shuffled out as attorney general in January because she wouldn’t.
Trudeau and his staff say their only concern was for SNC-Lavalin’s 9,000 jobs, which might be at risk if the company were convicted and then barred from bidding on federal contracts for up to 10 years. They deny exerting any improper influence on Wilson-Raybould and say she did not get shuffled over it.
Wilson-Raybould resigned Feb. 12. Jane Philpott, her close friend and cabinet ally, followed suit March 4, citing lost confidence in how the matter had been handled by the prime minister’s office. Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, resigned his own post Feb. 18. He said last week he resigned not because he had done anything wrong but because he felt if he stayed on after Wilson-Raybould resigned it would look as though Trudeau had chosen him, a longtime friend, over a minister.
Trudeau must lift a “gag order’’ and ensure Jody Wilson-Raybould can speak the full truth about her decision to leave cabinet, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said. The SNC-Lavalin controversy has exposed a crisis of moral and ethical leadership in Trudeau’s office, Scheer said at a news conference in Ottawa, adding an online campaign is underway to support Wilson-Raybould.
“Justin Trudeau must let her speak,’’ he said. Scheer said Liberal MPs on the committee need to support Wilson-Raybould coming back to shed additional light on the scandal, suggesting if they do not, it would suggest the prime minister “has something to hide.’’