Foreign Bribery Act: three companies found guilty in 20 years

OTTAWA – The law at the heart of the legal saga involving SNC-Lavalin and disrupting the federal government has only led to court proceedings seven times in 20 years. This assessment is pushing some observers to demand a new review of the law – and more resources for investigators.

E n Act on bribery of foreign public officials, businesses and Canadian individuals can not bribe foreign public officials in connection with commercial transactions. The most recent report to Parliament on this law indicates that since its adoption in 1999, charges have been laid against four companies and 15 individuals, following seven investigations.

Of these, three companies pleaded guilty while three people were sentenced; eleven individuals were acquitted or the charges were dropped by the prosecution. A person accused of corruption in India must be tried later this year.

Only one lawsuit is still pending against a company: SNC-Lavalin, allegedly paying bribes to Libyan officials. If SNC-Lavalin is the subject of a lawsuit, it would be the first company to suffer this fate.

This places Canada at the bottom of the 44 countries that signed the 1999 Anti-Corruption Convention of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Canada passed its law after signing the convention, which aims to recruit richer countries to fight the corruption of their own citizens and businesses in poorer countries.

Eight years ago, the OECD raised concerns about lax enforcement and Canada readjusted; but the number of charges and convictions since then remains low.

Patrick Moulette, head of the anti-corruption division of the OECD, said in an interview with Canadian Press that his organization would carry out a new review of the application of the Convention on Corruption by Canada in 2021. It does not therefore could not immediately say if there are improvements to be made since the last evaluation in 2011.

Canada reported to the OECD that there were 35 ongoing investigations into foreign bribery in 2013. In the six years since, four charges have been laid.

Transparency International Canada, which works to fight corruption around the world, has lowered Canada’s rank from “moderate enforcement” to “limited enforcement” last year, as only one new charge has been filed since 2016. In this case, related to the purchase of a plane in Thailand, the charge was dropped less than a year later.

A necessary revision

Joanna Harrington, a law professor at the University of Alberta, pointed out that the number of charges is not the only indication for assessing the effectiveness of a law, because Canada is helping other countries to assemble evidence and the law is also used to educate and deter offenders. Nevertheless, she said, it is time to take a closer look at this case.

“We have had twenty years, the time has come to review it,” she said, adding that the original law was passed with only two days of debate.

Under the law, investigations are handled by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), which created a special division with units in Calgary and Ottawa in 2008. Prosecution is handled by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

David Taylor, Director of Communications for Justice Minister David Lametti, assured that the government had “complete confidence” in the investigations and prosecutions brought under this law.

“Canada is committed to fighting corruption and has taken significant steps to deter Canadian businesses and citizens from bribing foreign public officials in their activities,” he said. declared.

Arrival of repair agreements

Harrington believes, however, that a review of the law would be necessary because of confusion over the use of this law and the addition last year of “suspended prosecution agreements” – a way to avoid prosecution if an accused company acknowledges its wrongdoings, provides reparations and introduces substantial internal reforms. If the company meets these conditions for a period of time, the charges are dropped.

“The problem we have is that we have this 20-year-old law, and the government last year added the repair agreements, and now we’re not sure it’s all working together,” he said. she argued.

It is about this case that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his staff reportedly tried to urge former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to negotiate a reparations agreement to avoid a criminal trial by the Montreal firm. Prime Minister Trudeau denied undue pressure on his former minister.

Earlier this week, the OECD Working Group on Corruption expressed concern about this situation and assured it would follow the issue closely.

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