Swiss Police Arrest Canadian Tied to Africa Fraud Inquiry

The Swiss police have arrested a former senior executive of SNC-Lavalin, a Canadian construction company that did considerable business with the regime of Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan dictator.
In a joint interview released Sunday, Jeannette Balmer, an official with the Swiss federal prosecutors office, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Radio Télévision Suisse that Riadh Ben Aissa, who was executive vice president of the company’s construction and infrastructure division, has been held in Bern, Switzerland, since the middle of the month.

She said that his arrest stemmed from an investigation that began almost a year ago into “suspicion of corrupt practices, fraud and money laundering in connection with dealings conducted in North Africa.”
Ms. Balmer did not name the country or countries involved. But under Mr. Ben Aissa, SNC-Lavalin landed several lucrative contracts in Libya, including the construction of a prison. Mr. Ben Aissa cultivated a close friendship with Saadi el-Qaddafi, a son of the former dictator, who was responsible for several infrastructure projects in the country.
In February SNC-Lavalin fired Mr. Ben Aissa and Stéphane Roy, the chief financial officer of the construction unit. An internal investigation was subsequently unable to trace $56 million in payments made to unknown agents working on behalf of the company that came from the construction unit. Pierre Duhaime, the company’s chief executive who had approved those payments, resigned in March.
Cynthia Vanier, a Canadian consultant who was hired by Mr. Roy to travel to Libya during the uprising last year to produce a report critical of the military campaign led by NATO, remains jailed in Mexico, accused of trying to smuggle Saadi el-Qaddafi and his family into that country. Mr. Roy was traveling to meet Ms. Vanier in Mexico at the time of her arrest. She denies the accusations and has said she was working with Mr. Roy on a water contract in Mexico.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police raided SNC-Lavalin’s head office this month.
Corporal Lucy Shorey, a spokeswoman for the police force, said it had received a “request for assistance” from Swiss authorities but declined to further comment.


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