MONTREAL — A former SNC-Lavalin executive on trial for fraud and corruption hatched a plan to pay a $4-million bribe to a witness in exchange for corroborating testimony, his trial heard Thursday.

In a recording played for the jury, a lawyer who represented Sami Bebawi at the time is heard saying his client came up with the idea of using a fictitious loan to cover legal costs as the best way to pay Riadh Ben Aissa, a former subordinate of the accused at the Montreal engineering giant.

Lawyer Constantine Kyres is heard describing the “the solution that our client came up with” as a “workable solution” in a conversation with an undercover police officer posing as a consultant representing Ben Aissa.

“Because your client properly defending himself is in our interest,” Kyres explained to the officer. “If your client properly defends himself and gets off, then by extension, we’re off as well.”

Kyres added: “Whether that loan will be repaid is between your client and my client, but it has to be a loan because it can’t be a payment.”

The undercover officer testified it was clear from Kyres’ non-verbal cues that the loan would not have to be repaid. He said Bebawi even told him as much in a quick phone conversation that was audible.

The witness, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, entered into discussions with Kyres in October 2013 following a proposal made to Ben Aissa, jailed in Switzerland at the time, to corroborate Bebawi’s version of events about their financial dealings.

Jurors heard that the $10-million amount initially offered was reduced to $8 million and then $4 million. Ben Aissa has testified that he refused the offer and told Canadian authorities.

The officer’s interactions with Kyres and Bebawi spanned about three months; some were recorded on video and others just audio.

In a final meeting at a Montreal law office in early January 2014 before the papers were finalized, a decision was made to deliver three documents — Ben Aissa’s affidavit confirming Bebawi’s testimony, the loan agreement and the loan forgiveness document — separately to Ben Aissa in Switzerland to prevent them from being intercepted by authorities.

Kyres said the affidavit was essential given Canadian authorities were expected to announce shortly whether they intended to go ahead with charges against Bebawi. “We’re concerned about what’s coming down the pipeline here. I still think they’re going to press charges against Sami, hopefully the document will help,” Kyres said.

Bebawi, who was in Egypt, also spoke to the agent during that final meeting through Skype.

“How are you progressing in this now?” Bebawi asked, suggesting the officer attend the final meetings in Geneva to ensure things went smoothly.

“I hope this black cloud will pass as soon as it can,” Bebawi told the undercover officer.

Bebawi, 73, faces eight charges, including fraud, corruption, laundering proceeds of crime, possession of stolen goods and bribery of foreign officials. The Crown alleges Bebawi pocketed $26 million.

He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which involve contracts tied to the Moammar Gadhafi dictatorship. The trial has centred on dealings with Gadhafi’s son, Saadi, whose ties made doing business in that country easier.

The Crown has called the case one “of international fraud and corruption,” with Bebawi allegedly driving the business model to obtain lucrative contracts. The prosecution alleges Bebawi received millions of dollars stemming from those deals, which began in the late 1990s.

The prosecution is trying to prove SNC-Lavalin transferred about $113 million to shell companies used to pay people who helped the company collect money and secure contracts. It is alleged that what was left in those accounts was split between Ben Aissa and Bebawi.

Ben Aissa testified that Bebawi maintained pressure on him to do what was needed to keep the contracts. Ben Aissa became an SNC executive himself in 2007, replacing Bebawi, and he remained in that role until February 2012 when he resigned from the company. He was arrested by authorities in Switzerland in April 2012.

He spent 30 months in preventive detention in Switzerland before pleading guilty there to bribing foreign officials and money laundering stemming from the Libya dealings.

He signed an agreement to co-operate with the RCMP while in Swiss detention and was extradited to Canada, where he was sentenced to one day in jail stemming from a conviction involving SNC-Lavalin executives and a contract to build a Montreal hospital.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2019.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press