MONTREAL — Former SNC-Lavalin executive Sami Bebawi tarnished Canada’s reputation and helped perpetuate the corrupt dictatorial regime of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, federal prosecutor Anne-Marie Manoukian said Thursday as she asked that he be sentenced to nine years in prison.
Bebawi, 73, was convicted by a jury Sunday on five charges including fraud, corruption of foreign officials and laundering proceeds of crime.
During his time running the company’s operations in Libya, beginning in the late 1990s, Bebawi set up a “complex fraud scheme” to secure SNC-Lavalin lucrative contracts and pocketed millions of dollars, Manoukian said in sentencing arguments before Quebec Superior Court Justice Guy Cournoyer.
“Consider the vulnerability of the victims,” Manoukian told the judge, referring to the citizens of the Libyan dictatorship. “They are foreigners, but that doesn’t make it any less serious. It not only tarnished the image of Canada but also served to perpetuate the regime in place.
“This is a very serious crime.”
Manoukian recommended he be sentenced to nine years for fraud, 4.5 years for corruption of foreign officials and 45 months for laundering the proceeds of crime, with the sentences being served concurrently. The only attenuating factor that could lessen his sentence, she said, is Bebawi’s age.
The defence countered that a six-year prison term would be appropriate: six years for fraud, 3.5 years for corruption and three years for laundering the proceeds of crime, served concurrently.
Bebawi’s lawyer, Annie Emond, entered several letters into evidence, including some from his family and former colleagues. She said they spoke to his character and the fact he had a stellar reputation before he was arrested.
A jury found Sami Bebawi guilty of all five charges he faced on its fourth day of deliberations. The case centred on several major infrastructure projects and dealings with Saadi Gadhafi, one of the sons of late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Prosecutors presented evidence that SNC-Lavalin transferred about $113 million to shell companies used to pay off people, including Saadi Gadhafi. Among the kickbacks to the younger Gadhafi was a U.S.-made luxury yacht — the Hokulani — purchased for $25 million.
What remained in the accounts of those firms after the kickbacks were paid was then split between Bebawi and Riadh Ben Aissa, a former colleague, with Bebawi allegedly receiving about $26 million. Ben Aissa turned on his former boss and became the Crown’s star witness.
Emond invoked the names of notorious Quebec fraudsters Vincent Lacroix and Earl Jones, who stole money and used their reputations to scam innocent victims. Bebawi, she said, was unlike them, because he was working for a multinational that was encouraged by the Canadian government to do business in Libya.
Cournoyer told her he had a difficult time following her argument. The fact Libya was known to be a corrupt country doesn’t excuse Bebawi’s actions, he said, whether or not Canada encouraged SNC-Lavalin to develop business ties there.
Emond added that the Libyan state didn’t suffer any clear losses. She said SNC-Lavalin provided the country solid infrastructure and Libya still owes the company about $100 million.
Again, the judge said he didn’t follow her. “I don’t know how to take your argument,” Cournoyer said. “It’s like you’re saying to the victim: ‘I defrauded you, but it’s not that bad because you still owe me money.’ “
Bebawi didn’t address the judge directly but submitted a statement in writing.
He told the court he was “profoundly sorry for the agony I caused my kids, their spouses and the 8 grandchildren, angels whom the Lord gave us to make us appreciate more how lucky we are. That in itself, may be the most severe punishment I will face.”
He ended his letter by stating: “I have gone through detention, devastatingly painful throat and tongue cancer, and felt the crushing force of the law and its representatives. Rest assured, I have learned a lot throughout this process. I am truly humbled.”
Bebawi is free pending sentencing, and Cournoyer said he will rule on the sentence on Jan. 10.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 19, 2019.
Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press