SNC-Lavalin launches $2 million lawsuit against former executive, consultant

MONTREAL – Engineering giant SNC-Lavalin is suing a former senior executive and a consultant in an effort to recover more than $2 million, including $202,000 that it says was used to decorate a Toronto condominium owned by the son of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The Montreal-based company is seeking damages against former executive vice-president Riadh Ben Aissa and former consultant Cynthia Vanier and her company Vanier Consulting Ltd.

In a court filing earlier this week, SNC-Lavalin alleges Ben Aissa and Vanier “conspired” with the company’s former vice-president, Stephane Roy, to use company funds without permission.

None of these allegations have been proven in court.

“We’re now progressed enough in the investigations in order to have a solid case to be able to file this,” said SNC-Lavalin spokeswoman Leslie Quinton.

The company issued a news release about the lawsuit Thursday evening after a journalist began to ask questions.

“I know it gives the impression that we were trying to hide it, but it’s the exact opposite because it’s actually quite good news for us, so it was just a question of timing,” she said Friday.

SNC-Lavalin is seeking $1.85 million from Vanier for allegedly plotting with Roy and Ben Aissa to smuggle Gadhafi’s son to Mexico.

“By retaining the services of Vanier Consulting and participating in the conspiracy to illegally extract Saadi Gadhafi and his family from Libya, Ben Aissa, Roy and Vanier clearly acted to the detriment of (SNC-Lavalin’s) interests,” it said in the 15-page claim before the Quebec Superior Court.

Vanier was recently released after 18 months in custody in Mexico, but has proclaimed her innocence and successfully appealed her arrest and detention to the Supreme Court of Mexico.

Vanier, from Mount Forest, Ont., did not immediately respond to an email asking for comment on the SNC-Lavalin lawsuit against her.

Meanwhile, the claim against Ben Aissa relates to bills paid to Harvey Wise Designs in 2011 to decorate Gadhafi’s downtown Toronto condo.

SNC-Lavalin (TSX:SNC) said a Quebec court has accepted its request to freeze Ben Aissa’s shares in the engineering giant, valued at about $350,000, to satisfy the damages being sought and other potential claims flowing from a series of investigations in Canada and Switzerland.

The move also prevents Ben Aissa from trying to sell the shares.

Ben Aissa is being held by Swiss authorities 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 previously filed a claim for damages against Roy in April.

As it did in that lawsuit, SNC-Lavalin says it’s basing its legal action on emails from 2011 that were sent among Roy, Ben Aissa and Vanier.

Roy and Ben Aissa’s brother have also filed lawsuits against SNC-Lavalin. Roy’s action alleges wrongful dismissal while Rafik Benaissa claims SNC-Lavalin caused him harm for using his brother as a “scapegoat” while protecting its interests in Libya in the face of political change.

In a statement of defence to the Roy lawsuit, SNC-Lavalin said it was justified in firing him because he and Ben Aissa acted illegally in trying to help Gadhafi and his family flee Libya without its knowledge.

“They committed serious acts, outside their normal duties and without the knowledge of their superiors, in violation of SNC-Lavalin’s code of conduct and in the blatant and total disregard of the policies and controls in place,” it said in the statement of defence filed last month.

It is seeking more than $1.8 million from Roy to cover expenses it said it later learned were paid by the company and claimed its reputation was irreparably damaged by Roy’s actions.

Roy has never been charged, but an RCMP affidavit used to obtain a search warrant of SNC-Lavalin’s headquarters named him as taking part in an alleged effort to smuggle Gadhafi and his family to Mexico.

SNC-Lavalin also alleged in the lawsuit that Roy worked with Vanier to create fake passports and Mexican documents for the Gadhafi family.

In its legal filings, SNC referred to emails from Vanier that it said suggested the initial plan was to get Gadhafi’s family into Canada, before sanctions against his travel made that impossible.

It accused Ben Aissa and Roy of using new spending authority that SNC granted them by paying Vanier and a Gadhafi bodyguard $1.85 million.

SNC-Lavalin said Roy’s termination was justifiable because he had violated a United Nations prohibition by allegedly helping Gadhafi.

The alleged attempt to spirit Saadi Gadhafi occurred in the wake of a civil war that led to the overthrow and death of his father.

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