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Ex-SNC Lavalin executive makes Gadhafi claims

MONTREAL - A former SNC-Lavalin executive is alleging the engineering giant put the daughter-in-law of late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi on its payroll in 2011.

Riadh Ben Aissa has filed a document in Quebec Superior Court alleging the company had a long-standing relationship with the former regime.

He contends that having ties to the Gadhafi family was seen as important to securing contracts in Libya.

Ben Aissa's document is among several that have been filed after a civil suit that SNC-Lavalin (TSX:SNC) initiated last year in Montreal in an effort to recoup more than $2 million.

None of the allegations have been proven in court. A spokeswoman for Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin said Thursday it will not comment on the allegations as the case remains active in Quebec Superior Court.

Ben Aissa is currently jailed in Switzerland on suspicion of corruption, fraud and money-laundering in North Africa. Authorities believe he embezzled more than $120 million in funds from SNC-Lavalin.

The company alleges Ben Aissa, another former company vice-president and a consultant conspired to use $1.85 million in company funds without permission in an attempt to smuggle Saadi Gadhafi, son of the late dictator, to Mexico.

The plan never fully materialized and Saadi Gadhafi ended up in Niger instead.

SNC-Lavalin also wants $202,000 that was allegedly used to fix up a Toronto condominium owned by Saadi Gadhafi.

Ben Aissa states that several Toronto employees of the company were aware that the money, which was allegedly used for design fees for the condominium, was billed to the firm and that it consented to the payments.

In his court filing, he claims he's being used as a scapegoat and that his behaviour was in line with the company's "strong and long-standing relationship with Saadi Gadhafi."

Ben Aissa argues that several high-level executives for SNC-Lavalin had "strong links" with the Gadhafi family for several years, including his own predecessor.

He also alleges there were numerous interactions, citing in one case where company officials intervened to help the younger Gadhafi get a visa. At one time, there were even discussions to make the dictator's son a company vice-president, he said.

Ben Aissa also claims that Saadi Gadhafi's wife was put on the payroll of SNC-Lavalin's Moroccan office even though she wasn't an employee — a move made to help her and her children financially.

He also alleges SNC-Lavalin often footed the bill for expenses incurred by Saadi Gadhafi.

For example, in one instance, the company spent $2 million for expenses during a trip to Canada in 2008. During a subsequent trip to Toronto in 2009, the firm planned an evening for him during the Toronto International Film Festival involving rapper 50 Cent at a cost of $550,000.

The company and some of its former executives have been mired in legal battles during the past few years.

Earlier this month, former executive vice-president Sami Abdallah Bebawi and Stephane Roy, a former vice-president, were both charged in an ongoing RCMP investigation.

Roy is expected to appear in court next month on charges of fraud over $5,000; bribing a foreign public official; and contravening a United Nations economic measures act related to Libya. He is suing the company for wrongful dismissal.

Bebawi, Ben Aissa's predecessor, has a warrant out for his arrest. His whereabouts are unknown.

Authorities in Canada want Ben Aissa to stand trial on charges of fraud worth an estimated $22.5 million involving the McGill University Health Centre, one of Canada's largest infrastructure projects and valued at $1.3 billion.

Also charged in that Quebec anti-corruption unit case is former SNC Lavalin president Pierre Duhaime; McGill University Health Centre executive Yanai Elbaz and his brother Yohann; Jeremy Morris, the administrator of a Bahamas-based investment company; and Arthur Porter and his wife Pamela.

Arthur Porter, who once headed the Security Intelligence Review Committee, Canada's spy watchdog, remains detained in a Panamanian jail awaiting extradition.

Porter was director general of the MUHC when the alleged fraud occurred.

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