A Toronto court has cleared two former officials of engineering giant SNC-Lavalin and a Bangladeshi-Canadian businessman of the charge of planning to bribe Bangladeshi officials to secure a consultancy contract in the Padma Bridge project, in which the World Bank was one of the financiers.
Justice Ian Nordheimer of the Ontario Superior Court threw out all wiretap evidence on Friday and rebuked the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for its conduct in the investigation, reports the Toronto Star
The trio are Kevin Wallace, former vice-president of energy and infrastructure, his subordinate Ramesh Shah, ex-VP of the international division, and Zulfiquar Ali Bhuiyan, a dual Bangladeshi-Canadian citizen.
Another accused, former engineer Mohammad Ismail, had been relieved last year after he decided to testify against Wallace and Ramesh. Charges against former state minister Abul Hassan Chowdhury had been stayed previously.
Justice Ian Nordheimer rebuked the Canadian police, saying: “Reduced to its essentials, the information provided in the [wiretap applications] was nothing more than speculation, gossip and rumour.”
The investigation on Bangladeshi side, done by the Anti-Corruption Commission, also dismissed the allegations, which were raised by the World Bank.
After the suspension of the project, the Bangladesh government decided to build the bridge with domestic funding. An investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission also found the suspected Bangladeshi officials and politicians innocent.
The main construction of the bridge began in December last year and has continued smoothly. The government has put highest priority on implementing the project.
The World Bank, Jica, Asian Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank were the initial investors of the mega project. The WB had pledged $1.2b of the project cost.
The bridge’s work stalled after its lead financier WB suspended the funds raising corruption allegations in October 2011. The other lenders followed suit.
The WB earlier submitted the first report to Finance Minister AMA Muhith on September 21, 2011. Based on the report, the government suspended project director Rafiqul Islam on October 9 and transferred former Bridges Division secretary Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan on October 13.
The ACC formed an investigation committee on October 18.
Canadian police started investigation into the allegation on a request from the WB. In the fall of 2011, the RCMP raided the Oakville office of SNC-Lavalin International Inc.
On December 17, 2012, the ACC filed the case of “conspiracy for corruption in the Padma Bridge project” against seven people including Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan. The ACC kept the names of former communications minister Syed Abul Hossain and former state minister Abul Hasan as suspects.
SNC is serving a ban imposed in 2013 prohibiting it from bidding on any development projects financed by the World Bank for 10 years.
Tipsters not reliable
SNC-Lavalin was one of the five companies short-listed for the construction supervision contract of the bridge project. After the company was ranked second in the bidding process, an investigator with the WB’s integrity unit approached the RCMP in 2011 “concerning allegations that had come to [their] attention regarding possible corruption involving SNC-Lavalin and the Padma Bridge project,” Nordheimer wrote.
This included information gleaned from four “tipsters.” Information from one of the four tipsters was considered general in nature and not relied upon. As for the other three, Nordheimer said that the RCMP never spoke with tipsters No 1 and 3, and only spoke to tipster No 2 over the telephone.
“As is apparent from a review of the ITO filed in support of the first authorisation [for a wiretap], most, if not all, of the information provided by the three tipsters had, in turn, been received by the tipsters from other sources,” the judge said.
“The RCMP did not contact any of the sources of the hearsay information relayed by the tipsters, even though some of those sources were identified by the tipsters.”
Nordheimer pointed out that because the RCMP never checked out the tipsters, it was unclear if there were ever four informants providing information, or simply two individuals using different email accounts.
The judge said that it was later discovered through the court process that the tipster No 2 turned out to be a “disgruntled competing bidder” who had also been engaged in corrupt practices with respect to the CSC process itself.
Nordheimer also criticised the RCMP for relying on the travel history of Wallace to try to confirm the information from a tipster who said it was at a meeting in Dubai where “the deal for the CSC” had been made. It was later discovered that Wallace had not been in Dubai at any point in time.
“The RCMP did not include the findings in subsequent ITOs when it sought to renew the authorisations for the wiretaps,” the judge wrote.
In April 2016, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that the WB’s anti-corruption staff had immunity and did not have to appear in court in Toronto to provide information about the whistleblowers.
Lawyers for Wallace had argued that the defence should be able to examine bank records and challenge the WB investigators because they initially tipped off the RCMP, who then set up wiretaps to investigate the SNC-Lavalin employees.
WB allegations, claims
In a statement
issued on June 29, 2012, the WB said that it had credible evidence corroborated by a variety of sources which points to a high-level corruption conspiracy among Bangladeshi government officials, SNC-Lavalin executives, and private individuals in connection with the Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project.
The WB provided evidence from two investigations to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, as well as Finance Minister Muhith and the chairman of the ACC in September 2011 and April 2012.
“We urged the authorities of Bangladesh to investigate this matter fully and, where justified, prosecute those responsible for corruption. We did so because we hoped the Government would give the matter the serious attention it warrants,” the statement reads.
The WB demanded that the government took serious actions against the high-level corruption they had unearthed.
“It would be irresponsible of the Bank not to press for action on these threats to good governance and development.”
Regarding the ban on SNC-Lavalin for 10 years, the WB said
on April 17, 2013 that the firm’s misconduct involved “a conspiracy to pay bribes and misrepresentations when bidding for Bank-financed contracts in violation of the World Bank’s procurement guidelines.”