Former CSIS watchdog, SNC execs face new criminal charges
Quebec’s anti-corruption unit says Duhaime, Aissa and three others wanted on 24 charges including fraud and document forgery.
MONTREAL – The man once entrusted to keep an eye on Canada’s spy agency is now wanted by police and extradition procedures are underway in the hope of bringing him back to face criminal charges in this country. An arrest warrant is out for Arthur Porter, the former head of the CSIS watchdog agency, for alleged fraud in one of the country’s most expensive infrastructure projects.
He is among the five people named in arrest warrants issued Wednesday by Quebec’s anti-corruption squad, in the case of the $1.3-billion construction of a Montreal mega-hospital. The others are: former SNC Lavalin senior executives Pierre Duhaime and Riadh Ben Aissa, Yanai Elbaz and Jeremy Morris, the administrator of a Bahamas-based investment company.
The accused face a total of 24 charges – including fraud, breach of trust and document forgery. They say Porter and Elbaz are wanted under suspicion of having accepted bribes from some of the others.
Porter was the director-general of the McGill University Hospital Centre when the alleged fraud occurred. He was also head of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which he joined in 2008 before becoming its chairman in 2010.
A spokeswoman for Quebec’s anti-corruption unit says none of the five people have been arrested yet. Anne-Frederick Laurence said Wednesday those suspects who are currently in Quebec will be charged soon. Three suspects are living abroad, including Porter, and she said the process to bring them back has already been launched.
“There are procedures that have already started with these countries, but we don’t know how long it’ll take,” Laurence said. “We’ll have to see how the situation evolves.”
Porter resigned under suspicious circumstances in 2011, and has since left for the Bahamas. After that affair, the federal government tightened the screening process for nominees to the intelligence committee.
Duhaime, the former chief executive officer of engineering powerhouse SNC-Lavalin (TSX:SNC), had already been charged earlier this month with fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud and issuing false documents.
Duhaime and another former top executive, Ben Aissa, face those charges stemming from a contract involving the building of the MUHC.
The charges revolve around a contract between SNC-Lavalin International – a branch belonging to the engineering giant – and a firm known as Sierra Asset Management in May 2009. An internal investigation concluded that SNC-Lavalin paid $56 million in payments to undisclosed agents.
The criminal charges related to the new arrest warrant are separate from the ones Duhaime and Ben Aissa already face, the police squad noted.
Duhaime is due back in court on May 23 and is not allowed to leave Canada. Meanwhile, Ben Aissa has been detained in Switzerland since April 2012 and is awaiting trial there on charges related to alleged corruption, fraud and money-laundering in North African countries including Libya. The Crown has previously said that it’s trying to get Ben Aissa back to Canada.
Elbaz is a former high-ranking MUHC executive who served as associate director-general before quitting to go into private consulting in October 2011. His name has come up during Quebec’s corruption inquiry, on a list of names of people who met with a controversial construction magnate at an exclusive Montreal club.
The other person named in the warrants, Morris, is linked to a company called Sierra Asset Management, which police say served as an intermediary between SNC and MUHC officials. Both Porter and Morris are listed on the warrants as living in the Bahamas.
Porter has kept a low profile since leaving Montreal in 2011, when questions were raised about his business dealings. In a rare interview, he recently told CBC News that he has cancer. In an interview at his health clinic in the Bahamas, Porter said he had done nothing wrong. He characterized the allegations against him as “spurious” and the result of a “witch hunt.”
“I mean it just seemed that there were attacks from all angles,” Porter told the CBC. “I mean if you looked at each piece maybe you would say, ‘OK, maybe that’s an issue, that’s an issue.’ But it just seemed to be that I was responsible for the snowfall in Montreal.”