MONTREAL — SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. is pushing back its decision on whether to opt for a trial by jury or by judge alone in a corruption case that has tripped up the engineering giant and ensnared it in a political controversy for months.“I need more time to make the choice. It has to be decided by several people in the company,” defence lawyer Francois Fontaine told the Court of Quebec on Friday.“Because it’s an important decision,” he told reporters after the morning hearing. “It’s a big company. It’s necessary to take the time to analyze it carefully.”Last week a Quebec judge ruled there is enough evidence to send SNC-Lavalin to trial over charges of fraud and corruption, prompting a further tumble in the beleaguered firm’s share price.The company has previously pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges.SNC-Lavalin is due back in court June 28.The Montreal-based firm is accused of paying $47.7 million in bribes to public officials in Libya between 2001 and 2011. SNC-Lavalin, its construction division and a subsidiary also face one charge each of fraud and corruption for allegedly defrauding various Libyan organizations of $129.8 million.The court hearing in Montreal on Friday was the latest step in criminal proceedings that began last fall after SNC-Lavalin failed to secure a deferred prosecution agreement, a kind of plea deal that would have seen the firm agree to pay a fine rather than face prosecution.Since early February, SNC-Lavalin has been at the centre of a political controversy following accusations from former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould that top government officials pressured her to overrule federal prosecutors and negotiate a deferred prosecution agreement with the company.
Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)RelatedSale of Sanata Complex: Case against Singh, Brassington adjournedJune 29, 2018In “Court”Stay granted in misconduct charge against Singh, BrassingtonJuly 17, 2018In “Court”Lawyers make submissions for SOCU misconduct charges to be thrown outSeptember 29, 2018In “Court” …despite property being sold more than 3 times higher than Govt valuationMore charges have been filed against former Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh and former National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) head Winston Brassington; this time over the sale of the Sanata Textiles Complex.File photo: (L) Former Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh and former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NICIL Winston Brassington leaving the court with some of their lawyers in April of 2018.Singh and Brassington are already before the courts on similar charges, but the latest charge was filed without the knowledge of the two parties.As a consequence, they were not in court to answer the charge when it was read to acting Chief Magistrate Sherdel Issacs-Marcus.The charge alleges that Singh and Brassington, while performing the duties of Finance Minister and Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NICIL respectively, between October 26 and December 20, 2010, acted recklessly when they agreed to the sale of the Sanata Textiles Complex to Queens Atlantic Investment Inc (QAII).According to the charge, the 18.976-acre property was sold for $697.8 million but it was valued at $1.04 billion.However, according to privation documents published by NICIL, the property was valued at $245 million by the Government’s Chief Valuation Officer, Compton Autar, but QAII paid $809.5 million for the property, which is almost four times the Government valuation.In court on Friday, Attorney Stanley Moore, representing the interests of the two, informed the court that he had no prior information of the specific charges. It was then that Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) prosecutor also acknowledged that Singh and Brassington were not informed of the new charge.Attorney Moore then assured the court that the two men will be back in Guyana on June 29, when the matter is to be called before Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan.SOCU had previously brought charges against the two former Government officials in April. The two men were arraigned on charges of allegedly selling several plots of land on the East Coast of Demerara to National Hardware Guyana Ltd for over $598 million.Additionally, the charges included selling land to Scady Business Corporation at a cost of $150 million, and to Multi-cinemas Guyana Inc at a cost of $185 million.Many political and social commentators, even those in the legal fraternity, have argued that the charges against the two former Government officials may be unconstitutional on the basis that they are not “public officers” in accordance with the Constitution.Following these events, former Finance Minister Sasenarine Kowlessar, who served from 1999 to 2006, was taken in for questioning at SOCU’s Kingston, Georgetown head office, and was interrogated for close to five hours before being released on $200,000 station bail.Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo has said the decision to charge the duo for the sale of the lands, is nothing more than a “frivolous” attempt to keep a campaign promise made by the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) to jail members of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).“It is all frivolous… This Government campaigned on a promise that they will jail all of us when they get into power because we’re massively corrupt… We were told that we had assets that we were not declaring to the integrity Commission. We’re told that the People’s Progressive Party and its leaders had stolen so much money they couldn’t stash it in Guyana, they had to stash it abroad. These were the campaign. This was in the mouth of every person who spoke on the APNU platform. Jail, Jail these people,” Jagdeo told the media last month.Former Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh had expressed confidence that the charges brought against him will be disposed of in the near future because he feels they are frivolous and have no bearing.Singh said he discharged his functions as a Minister of Government and public servant diligently and in accordance with the law at all times.“I have no fear whatsoever about the discharge of my duties being subjected to the ultimate degree of scrutiny… I have absolutely no reservation about that and I have absolutely no fear,” he added.Meanwhile, Guyana Times, along with its sister companies Television Guyana (TVG-CH 28) and Radio Guyana Inc (RGI), is housed at the Sanata Complex, Ruimveldt Industrial Site, Georgetown which is owned by QAII.Only recently, the Guyana Times received a number of threats from persons who claimed to be agents of the Government to stop publishing news items which are critical of the Administration.These persons have threatened that should the newspaper continue to pursue articles which are critical of the Government, its owners, management and affiliate companies will face dire consequences.In the past, this media house had been threatened by Government officials. In particular, one Government official called for the torching of Sanata Complex.