Trudeau’s Lawmakers Limit Scope of Probe Into SNC-Lavalin Furor
(Bloomberg) -- A parliamentary committee will study the SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. controversy in Canada without hearing from key witnesses after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s lawmakers rejected a broader investigation.
The House of Commons justice committee, on which the governing Liberals hold a majority, voted to study the ins-and-outs of remediation agreements -- like that being sought by the company to settle its case -- and “the discussions between the office of the attorney general and government colleagues” on the matter. They voted to hear from at least three witnesses, but not all those whom opposition lawmakers had proposed.
Wednesday’s hearing in Ottawa came after Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned from Trudeau’s cabinet amid a report that she faced pressure to intervene on behalf of SNC-Lavalin to solve a legal problem while serving as justice minister. The parliamentary ethics watchdog is also investigating the issue, which has dominated political debate at the start of an election year in Canada.
Throughout the nearly three-hour hearing, Liberals insisted they weren’t acting on behalf of Trudeau’s office but consistently lowered expectations for the committee’s investigation. “We are not here to replace what the ethics commissioner will do,” Liberal lawmaker Iqra Khalid told the committee.
The controversy centers around whether Trudeau or his staff pressured Wilson-Raybould, who isn’t on the committee’s witness list, to order Canada’s federal prosecution service to grant the Montreal-based engineering and construction giant a remediation agreement that would resolve long-standing fraud and corruption charges out of court.
Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of the justice portfolio in January, serving as minister of veterans affairs before announcing her resignation Tuesday.
The committee voted Wednesday to hear from witnesses including, but not limited to, her successor, David Lametti, and two other officials. Liberal lawmakers voted down efforts to add other names to the list, including Wilson-Raybould and several top Trudeau aides.
Trudeau said Wednesday he and Wilson-Raybould discussed the issue in September. “I emphasized to her that the decisions she makes as attorney general, particularly in this matter, are her decisions and I was not directing or pressuring her,” the prime minister told reporters in Sudbury, Ontario. “If she felt she had received pressure, it was her obligation, her responsibility to come and talk to me and she did not do that in the fall.”
Wilson-Raybould has hired a former Supreme Court judge to advise her on what she can say publicly now that she’s out of cabinet.
SNC-Lavalin has long lobbied for a negotiated settlement in the case, which dates back to 2012 and has cost the company at least C$5 billion ($3.8 billion) in lost revenue, according to Chief Executive Officer Neil Bruce. Lametti has signaled he may still ultimately intervene in the case.
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