With offices in 50 countries, Montreal based SNC Lavalin is one of the world’s biggest engineering firms. From reconstruction projects in Haiti to Chinese nuclear centres, to military camps in Afghanistan and pharmaceutical factories in Belgium, the sun never set on SNC. In Africa alone SNC was involved in 430 projects in 37 different countries in 2008.
SNC has worked on Ottawa-financed projects across the globe, from Haiti to Afghanistan, India to Lebanon. In 2002 SNC won a $400-million Department of National Defence contract for work in Afghanistan.
In 2004 SNC-TEC was contracted to manufacture 300-500 million bullets for the US military, which was using large amounts of ammunition in Iraq at the time. Protests by antiwar groups prompted SNC to sell its bullet-making division to General Dynamics.
A big proponent of public-private partnerships, SNC has been one of the largest corporate recipients of Canadian “aid.” SNC’s first international contract, in 1963 in India, was financed by Canadian aid and led to further work in that country.
Over the past half-decade SNC is alleged to have greased palms in Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Angola, Nigeria, Mozambique, Ghana, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia as well as a number of Asian countries and Canada. In Libya, the RCMP accused SNC of paying $50 million to Saadi Gadhafi, son of the late Libyan dictator, in exchange for a series of contracts. The company is also alleged to have defrauded $130 million from Libyan public agencies. In a less high profile incident, the RCMP accused SNC of paying $6 million to the son-in-law of former Tunisian dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in exchange for assistance securing contracts.
As allegations of SNC bribery began to seep out in 2012, the company continued to win billions of dollars in Canadian government contracts, maintained the backing of the Canadian Commercial Corporation and garnered support from Canadian diplomats abroad. Company officials were fairly explicit about the role Canadian diplomacy played in their business. Regarding the Middle East, Paul Mariamo, SNC’s senior vice president, explained: “We would love to see our prime minister or minister there often, promoting our product. We can fight companies, but we cannot fight governments. We need you to fight the governments for us: we cannot do it ourselves.” In another candid moment, president Jacques Lamarre described how the company benefits from Ottawa’s lobbying. “The official support of our governments, whether through commercial missions or more private conversations, has a beneficial and convincing impact on our international clients.”
Like many major corporations SNC makes a point of hiring people who have worked for the government. For example, Christiane Bergevin, who was running SNC’s financing subsidiary in 2008, had SNC as her client when she worked at Export Development Canada.
A powerful player in Ottawa, the president of SNC was cited among Embassy magazine’s "Top 50 People Influencing Canadian Foreign Policy". SNC worked hard to build, according to the Financial Post, its “considerable lobbying power in Ottawa.”