A confidential document sent to the Liberal Party of Canada in 2016, obtained by CBC / Radio-Canada, reveals how senior officials of engineering firm SNC-Lavalin were named on a scheme to illegally influence the Canadian elections.
The list of names, compiled in 2016 by federal investigators probing political party donations and leaked to CBC the fifth state and Radio-Canada's Survey, raises new questions about an agreement by the Commissioner of Canada Elections not to sue the company.
Federal Liberals received the list on a "confidential" letter from the Canadian Election Commissioner – the investigative branch of the Canadian elections – on August 5, 2016. But for nearly three years, neither the Canada nor the Liberal Party they shared that. information.
Research shows that over a period of more than five years between 2004 and 2009, 18 former SNC-Lavalin employees, directors and some spouses contributed nearly $ 110,000 to federal liberals, including for four-party leadership campaigns and four riding associations in Quebec.
According to the letter, the investigation concluded that SNC-Lavalin reimbursed all of these individual donations – a practice prohibited by the Canadian Elections Act.
SNC also made indirect donations to the Conservative Party for just over $ 8,000, according to the researchers.
Since 2004, corporations are not allowed to donate to federal political parties in order to prevent corporate influence over election campaigns.
"Money is a huge advantage in an election campaign," said Jeff Ayotte, a defense attorney specializing in Canadian electoral law.
"I do not know the intent of SNC-Lavalin, but certainly the benefit to the candidates is enormous."
The illicit operation of SNC-Lavalin has not been detected for nearly a decade. Despite evidence gathered by the investigators, the Canadian Election Commissioner has decided not to file charges against the company, which is based in Montreal, but operates throughout the world.
"We know that decisions to participate in this scheme have taken place at the highest levels of SNC-Lavalin," Ayotte said. "& # 39;[It] seems to suggest to me that there should have been an indictment. "
Only 1 SNC executive charged
SNC-Lavalin avoided the charges by signing what is known as the "compliance agreement" in 2016 with the Canadian Election Commissioner after promising not to break the law in the future.
That was not the case for conservative Peterborough MP Dean FromMast, who was commissioned by the commissioner for more than $ 21,000 in spending violations in the 2008 federal election and was represented by Ayotte in his 2014 trial.
"You might think that the more serious, more deliberate, longer-term and more sophisticated scheme involving more money and more candidates and more elections would be prosecuted," Ayotte said.
"But the opposite happened."
Ayotte said the compliance agreement effectively equates SNC-Lavalin off the hook. Only one SNC-Lavalin employee was charged in the scheme.
The Canadian Election Commissioner sent the letter to the Liberal Party in 2016 for $ 110,000 in undue donations to be returned to the federal treasury.
The Liberal Party repeatedly refused to provide the names of those involved when asked by reporters for CBC / Radio-Canada. The Conservative Party, which received $ 8,187.73 in the same scheme, immediately provided its list of SNC-Lavalin names to CBC / Radio-Canada upon request.
Both parties refunded the money to the general receiver in August 2016.
Some of those whose names appeared on the list the fifth state/Survey who were not involved in any illegal repayment scheme.
However, in his letter to the Liberal Party, the Canadian Commissioner of Elections stated that all donations listed were made indirectly by SNC-Lavalin itself. The commissioner said SNC-Lavalin's contributions were "ineligible" – meaning they violated the law – and had to be paid back.
SNC-Lavalin did not return CBC / Radio-Canada calls. Current CEO Neil Bruce, who signed the 2016 compliance agreement, said in that agreement that all seniors involved in the scheme had left the engineering firm until 2016.
I never acted like a straw donor.
The leaked documents show that among the group donating to the liberals was Kathleen Weil, the wife of former SNC-Lavalin executive Michael Novak. Weil is a former justice minister and attorney general of Quebec and a full member of the Québec National Assembly.
The list shows that on June 30, 2004, four years before being elected for the first time to the Quebec National Assembly, Weil made a donation of $ 5,000 to the federal liberals that the Canadian Commissioner of Elections was "reimbursed" for SNC-Lavalin.
The letter states that Weil made the contribution on the same day that nine other SNC-Lavalin executives or their spouses made similar donations.
In a call with CBC / Radio Canada, Weil denied any knowledge of the scheme.
"I would never have and never acted like a straw giver."
In an e-mail statement, Weil said, "My donations to political parties have always been made in good faith and on a personal basis, without compensation or consideration and without repayment or promise of reimbursement from anyone."
Weil's husband Michael Novak also firmly denied receiving bonuses to compensate him or his wife for political donations.
The Canadian Election Commissioner states in the letter that Novak made three donations, totaling $ 5,672.91, for which he was compensated by SNC-Lavalin in 2004 and 2008.
In a telephone interview, Novak said he met with the commissioner's investigators in 2014 and that he said they were mistaken.
"We've never been reimbursed," Novak told CBC / Radio-Canada.
Novak said he received countless SNC-Lavalin bonuses over the years, but as far as he knew, none were tied to his political donations. If the investigators found evidence of reimbursements from SNC-Lavalin in bonus form, "this would have been done without my knowledge," he said.
Novak said SNC-Lavalin actively encouraged company employees to make donations, and even collected checks to hand over to the Liberal Party.
Novak insisted there was "nothing … unfavorable" to make donations like this and he did not know there was an illegal reimbursement scheme in progress.
Most of the senior executives on the list contacted by CBC / Radio-Canada declined to be interviewed.
& # 39; We received a bonus & # 39;
But two SNC-Lavalin non-executive employees who agreed to speak to the fifth state/Survey on the scheme said that they were definitely informed that their political donations would be reimbursed in the form of SNC-Lavalin bonuses.
One of them was Jean Lefebvre, who worked for the company as an engineer. Contacted at his home in Saint-Bruno, Que., Lefebvre said that he was specifically invited to donate to the Liberal Party.
"We received a bonus that was twice the amount donated," he said.
He explained that the size of the bonus was meant to compensate him for the taxes he would have to pay with the bonus.
Lefebvre said he understood that the company's president at the time, Jacques Lamarre, started the scheme and that the SNC-Lavalin legal department had signed.
"Normally, our legal advisers would be informed of the practice the president wanted to propose, which was to help political parties receive donations, despite the limits imposed on corporations over political donations," Lefebvre said.
Despite the conclusions of the Canadian Election Commissioner, only one person was charged. Normand Morin, a former vice president of SNC, was indicted in May 2018. Last November, he pleaded guilty to violating two counts of the Canadian Election Law for "colluding with SNC-Lavalin senior officials" and for soliciting contributions "on behalf of federal political entities."
He received fines of $ 2,000. Three other charges were dropped.
This allegation of guilt avoided a judgment that may have exposed more details of the SNC-Lavalin scheme.
In a telephone interview, Morin said he did not know why he was solely responsible. "It's a mystery to me," he said.
Morin declined to name his contacts in the Federal Liberal Party.
"There were lots of people," he said. "You should point your investigation to the parts."
Name included "with error"
According to investigators of the Canadian election commissioner, SNC-Lavalin's former vice president, Pierre Anctil, received $ 4,462.88 from SNC-Lavalin as compensation for his donation to the Canadian Liberal Party on June 30, 2004.
Aimed at his home in Westmount, on the island of Montreal, Anctil denied having been compensated by SNC-Lavalin for this donation.
When he showed a copy of the Canadian Commissioner's letter to the Liberal Party with the 18 names, Anctil said that his name was included "in error" and that he was never reimbursed.
In an affidavit filed in the Charbonneau Commission investigating corruption in Quebec's construction industry in 2015, Anctil said it knew the company was running a similar scheme of political donation at the provincial level. He said he was initially reluctant to get involved but moved on after his boss, SNC-Lavalin chairman Jacques Lamarre, insisted.
Anctil said he was asked to ask employees to make donations. Anctil said that although he had never personally received any of the bonuses, he told other officials that they would be compensated by SNC-Lavalin if they asked.
Lamarre told CBC / Radio-Canada that there has never been any illegal funding scheme going on at SNC-Lavalin and that Anctil and others are wrong.
- Send tips on this story to Harvey.Cashore@cbc.ca or call 416-526-4704
Marylynne Campbell, a former senior vice president of SNC-Lavalin who appears on the list of leaked names, also denied knowing about the scheme.
According to the election commissioner, Campbell made undue contributions of $ 5,000 to the Federal Liberal Party in 2005, as well as $ 5,000 in 2006 for Bob Rae's liberal leadership campaign. Campbell also donated $ 3,137.73 to the federal Conservative Party.
Reached by phone, Campbell said that Morin had "pressured" her and others to make donations to Quebec and federal political parties. Still, Campbell said she told investigators when they interviewed her that she had not received any compensation from SNC-Lavalin.
All former SNC-Lavalin employees and spouses named on the list who spoke to the fifth state/Survey said they were not contacted by the Canadian Election Commissioner to report that their names were on the document.
Conformity agreements for "minor"
Ayotte said Canadians need to know more about why SNC-Lavalin received a compliance agreement that avoided any criminal charges.
He said the decision to file charges against Del Mastro – and his cousin David Del Mastro, who was also accused in 2014 of using corporate money to compensate private donations, but was later acquitted – but not SNC-Lavalin may appear to be a double standard .
"Given the facts of [the SNC-Lavalin] In that case, it seems to be completely out of sync with … the way the Canadian elections treated others in similar situations, "Ayotte said.
According to an academic paper written in 2005 by David Brock, who would become the electoral director of the Northwest Territories, compliance agreements were not intended to be used for serious violations of the Canadian Election Law.
"The main reason for promulgating this new method of enforcement was to provide an alternative to the prosecution and thus deal more effectively with the so-called" minor infractions "of the Canadian Election Law," he wrote .
Still, the law allows the commissioner wide decision-making power over when to offer a compliance agreement or when to sue.
The commissioner's own guidelines on the possibility of prosecuting campaign violations establish that investigators should consider the seriousness of the offense whether it was part of a deliberate "scheme" or an isolated event and whether a prosecutor would help "maintain public trust in the electoral system ".
Canada's election commissioner, Yves Côté, declined a request for an interview. His spokeswoman, Michelle Laliberté, said the commissioner "conducted a full investigation using all the tools that were available to him." She said the evidence combined supported the filing of charges against Morin and that the reasons for the decision to offer a compliance agreement with SNC-Lavalin are publicly stated on the commissioner's website.
Liberal Party revenue chairman Stephen Bronfman did not return voice messages left by CBC / Radio-Canada. Party spokesman Braeden Caley wrote in an e-mail that "The Liberal Party of Canada fully complies with Canada's Electoral Laws and all Canada's rules for raising funds and donations and expects all people to donate to our legally and follow the same rules. "
Conservative Party spokesman Cory Hann said his party "looks forward to[s] the people who donate to the Conservative Party are doing so sincerely and by the letter of the law, according to the rules and regulations of the Canadian Elections, and the Electoral Law. "
Donations to the Liberal Party by officials, executives, SNC spouses
Donations to the Conservative Party of Canada by SNC employees, executives