Former SNC-Lavalin exec, accused in Libyan bribery case, has obstruction of justice charge stayed

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Sami Bebawi, a former SNC Lavalin executive, has had an obstruction of justice charge stayed because it took too long for his case to get to trial.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Guy Cournoyer handed down the decision Friday, citing unreasonable delays.

Cournoyer invoked the Jordan decision, a 2016 Supreme Court of Canada ruling which sets out timelines to deal with criminal matters.

He said the case was dormant for 11 months, calling it a « ship without a captain. »

Bebawi is accused of laundering $33 million between 2001 and 2012 in connection with contracts SNC-Lavalin negotiated with the former regime of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

He still faces charges of fraud, extortion, bribing a foreign official, possession of the proceeds of crime, and money laundering.

A request to have those charges stayed was rejected.

The Crown said it would take time to decide whether to appeal the decision. Bebawi declined to comment.

The decision comes amid a firestorm in Ottawa involving the engineering firm.

Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned as veterans affairs minister earlier this week — just days after a Globe and Mail report alleging that, as attorney general, she was pressured to order the director of public prosecutions to draft a « deferred prosecution agreement » to avoid taking SNC-Lavalin to trial on bribery and fraud charges in relation to its Libyan contracts.

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Live: Bail hearing for Huawei exec Meng Wanzhou continues for third day

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VANCOUVER—The bail hearing for a Chinese telecommunications giant’s top executive continues for a third day Tuesday in Vancouver.

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei Telecommunications, was arrested in Vancouver International airport Dec. 1 by Canadian authorities. She was sought for extradition to the United States on allegations of fraud, and has just spent her 10th night at the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women in Maple Ridge, B.C., about an hour east of Vancouver.

At the bail hearing Tuesday, the provisional arrest warrant from the United States is expected to be entered into evidence at the B.C. Supreme Court, with more details of the fraud charges she faces there.

Meng’s defence lawyers are expected to produce three character reference letters, none from Canada, as well as more details of the Meng family finances and family ties to the city. An affidavit from her husband Liu Xiaozong, who is listed on both a $5-million mortgage and a $15-million mortgage, may reveal more about the equity the family has in their two Vancouver homes, as well as his financial status.

Meng’s lawyer Monday argued his client should be granted bail under conditions, including that she wear a GPS monitoring ankle bracelet, and be supervised by a security detail around the clock. Her husband, Liu Xiaozong, agreed to be her “community surety” — posting bail and making sure she doesn’t skip town.

The Crown lawyer raised concerns with the proposals. The court Monday heard the proposed monitoring device could be cut off with scissors and works on a 3G network run by Rogers, which has partnerships with Huawei. The Crown also argued Liu was not an adequate surety, because “if Ms. Meng were to flee … Mr. Liu would not be left behind.”

The third day of the hearing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Follow investigative reporter Michael Mui (@mui24hours) below for live coverage of day three of the bail hearing.

Perrin Grauer is a Vancouver-based reporter covering community issues and Canada’s drug policies. Follow him on Twitter: @perringrauer

Alex McKeen is a Vancouver-based reporter covering wealth and work. Follow her on Twitter: @alex_mckeen

Michael Mui is a Vancouver-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @mui24hours

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Sask. eHealth exec got free PGA golf trip from vendor doing business with province

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A former Chief Information Officer with the Saskatchewan Crown corporation eHealth acknowledges that last year he received an all-expenses-paid trip to Charlotte, North Carolina where he and two other eHealth employees attended the PGA Championship.

Wilbour Craddock told CBC’s iTeam the flights, accommodations, meals and tickets to the August 2017 tournament were all paid for by Lexmark, a large printing firm that does business with the government of Saskatchewan.

The employees Craddock travelled with ended up getting fired earlier this year for violating the conflict of interest policy at eHealth, which runs Saskatchewan’s electronic health record system. 

Examples of gifts that should be declined: … Flights and/or registration to events. All-expense-paid trips.– eHealth Conflict of Interest policy

In a September statement, eHealth said the unnamed employees were dismissed because they « attended sporting events in the United States paid for by private companies that provide goods and services to eHealth. » eHealth also said the employees didn’t break the law and no funds were misappropriated.

Craddock wasn’t fired. He had already left eHealth for a job at Sask Polytechnic. He left just weeks before the hammer came down on the other employees.

Craddock said the new job opportunity was attractive because, « I no longer felt comfortable in the political dynamic that was the consolidation of the health system and some of the fighting that was going on between organizations. »

PGA trip not just about golf

According to Craddock’s Twitter account, he decided to follow Saskatchewan’s Graham DaLaet around the Quail Hollow course in Charlotte. The PGA championship is one of four major tournaments on the PGA Tour.

Former eHealth executive Wilbour Craddock says he went to the 2017 PGA Championship at the expense of Lexmark, a company doing business with the Saskatchewan government.

Craddock, described on his Twitter profile as a « mad golfer » who wears shorts 365 days a year, said the event was not just about golf.  

« You also were obligated to participate in product overviews, have conversations with product specialists, » he said. « I met with the health care lead out of Seattle who looks after Lexmark’s business. I met with the Canadian area vice president and had meaningful conversations around what Lexmark could do and what Lexmark wasn’t doing to support our needs in Saskatchewan. »

Craddock said the original contract with Lexmark was signed by someone else before Craddock was at eHealth.  He acknowledges he was pushing eHealth to deepen its business relationship with Lexmark.

« We had a provincial agreement in place and we were looking at ways to optimize, absolutely, » he said. « We were looking to take advantage of a pre-existing relationship. »

Conflict contradictions

eHealth’s conflict of interest policy at the time explicitly forbade just this sort of trip for employees.

The policy provided « examples of gifts that should be declined:

  • Gifts or entertainment that could influence or appear to influence, business decisions.
  • Flights and/or registration to events.
  • All-expense-paid trips. »

That policy is likely what got Craddock’s eHealth colleagues fired. However it appears to have had little influence on some of Craddock’s travel decisions during his four-year tenure at eHealth.

Vendor-sponsored travel relatively common at eHealth

Craddock estimated he took about two vendor-sponsored trips per year to locations like Las Vegas, Orlando and Austin.

« It’s not always looked at as a free trip. In some cases, these are taking us away from our families, taking us away from our jobs, to continue to promote the work that we’re doing, » he said.  

I know for a fact that the Lexmark trip that I went on, a prior approval wasn’t completed, so I violated policy on that particular instance.– Wilbour Craddock, former Chief Information Officer at eHealth

He noted that besides that trip to the PGA Championship, he never received free tickets to a sporting event.  

According to eHealth policy, employees taking out-of-province trips were required to get a « prior approval » form filled out in advance of the trip.

Craddock acknowledges that he failed to get CEO approval for the PGA Championship trip to North Carolina.

« I know for a fact that the Lexmark trip that I went on, a prior approval wasn’t completed, so I violated policy on that particular instance, » he told CBC’s iTeam in an interview.

‘Prior approval’ after-the-fact

CBC submitted a freedom of information request for all of Craddock’s travel records.

The PGA trip didn’t show up in the records at all, but dozens of other trips did.

In six cases, Craddock got his « prior approval » form signed by the CEO after he returned from the trip. He told CBC he would have had verbal prior approval, though he didn’t fill out the paperwork.

In several cases, eHealth’s CEO Susan Antosh approved Wilbour Craddock’s « prior approval » form after he returned from travel. (eHealth freedom of information request)

He said it’s « an administrative shortcoming not an approval shortcoming. » He said in some cases, the paperwork wasn’t filled out because the trips were last minute.

Craddock said there were lots of cases where his travel was paid for by taxpayers. That was the norm, he said. Craddock said when he took vendor-paid trips they were always approved by the CEO, except for the PGA trip.

« It was a standing principle that where possible we would leverage vendor supported funding to attend conferences and different national or international meetings, » said Craddock. « And that was not exclusive to me or to people in my division. That was more broadly within the organization and was, I guess, led by our CEO at the time. »

That CEO, Susan Antosh, was removed from her role in October 2017 and was assigned as a special advisor to the deputy minister of health.  She was dismissed from that role in March 2018. No explanation has been offered for her departure.

Late 2017 and early 2018 was a tumultuous time at eHealth. On January 24, 2018 the entire board was replaced with one exception. Some members had resigned while others’ terms had expired.

In the legislature in May, Minister Jim Reiter said eHealth is getting set to take on responsibility for all IT for the entire province, « so it just seemed that it was an appropriate time for a bit of a change of direction. »

During the turmoil, the organization was run by interim CEOs.

The NDP’s Danielle Chartier raised concern about all the turnover saying « the organization, with all due respect, seems not entirely stable at this point in time. »

Reiter replied, « I would say, you know, your concerns are valid. »

When the NDP opposition raised questions about the significant turnover at eHealth’s board and in the CEO position, Minister of Health Jim Reiter replied « your concerns are valid. » (CBC)

When CBC asked eHealth about Craddock’s travel history, the Crown corporation said in an email Craddock is no longer with the organization.

The spokesperson also noted « eHealth has undergone significant renewal over the past 9 months including the appointment of a new Board of Directors and the hiring of a new Chief Executive Officer. »

It also said it has recently enhanced its code of conduct processes and that, « the Provincial Auditor is aware of the issue and is reviewing the matter. »

Vendor-sponsored travel with health region employees

Craddock said the vendor-sponsored trips were regularly discussed at weekly senior leadership meetings and no one ever expressed doubts about approving them.

He pointed to one example he said was discussed by the team in 2016. Dell reseller WBM was offering all-expenses paid trips to a conference in Austin, Texas, for Craddock and some eHealth staff.

In the meeting, Craddock said, it was noted that employees of the Saskatoon, Regina and Prairie North health divisions were also sending staff on the trip.

« So we discussed the fact that others from the health system were attending this. The offer was made to us and the decision was made that it would be best that we attended as well, » said Craddock.

While eHealth’s policy forbids taking vendor-sponsored trips, the Saskatoon Health Region (SHR) policy says it’s OK. It says staff may accept « tokens exchanged as part of protocol/the normal exchange of hospitality between persons doing business together (including lunches and trips, meals, travel, accommodations paid by the vendor). »

If I was to walk back in time would I do things maybe differently? Yeah possibly.– Wilbour Craddock

In an email from the new Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), which has subsumed all health regions including Saskatoon, a spokesperson defended the SHR policy.

It said « an employee taking a vendor-paid trip is not, in itself, considered to be a conflict of interest. » It said such trips are permitted if they are for educational purposes and that trips are reviewed by management « to ensure no conflict exists, and then to confirm safeguards are in place to deter any future related conflict of interest. »

A few days later, the SHA wrote CBC a follow-up email saying it « agrees that the former regional health authority (Saskatoon) conflict of interest policies need to be revamped and strengthened into one clear, strong provincial conflict of interest policy. This process is underway. » 

Craddock said that at eHealth, part of the justification for accepting the vendor’s offer was that it saved taxpayers money.

« I think that was part of the underlying rationale as to why we leveraged vendor relationships when we did for conference participation, » he said. « It wasn’t for every single conference. »

eHealth featured in Dell promotional video

Craddock said that because Saskatchewan was such a key account for Dell, the company asked eHealth if it would participate in a promotional video. It was written into the contract between the two entities he said.

Wilbour Craddock says as part of eHealth’s contract with Dell, the crown corporation agreed to do some promotion of the company. 1:27

« The commitment was that if we took that on we would do some promotion material with them.  So the creation of the video was one of the promotion items that we did. I spoke at a conference at a breakfast session for them. I spoke at another conference out in Vancouver at an evening session. »

In the video, Craddock talks about one of the attractions of working with Dell and « the value of the Federation End-User Computing Solution to their managed service delivery. »

« We’re looking for partners, not vendors, » Craddock says in the video. « We have a lot of vendors but the Federation, we’re partnering with them because of the outcomes that we’re trying to drive towards. »

Companies offer trips to curry favour: expert

Maureen Kilgour, who’s an expert in business ethics and corruption, said the practices at eHealth and the Saskatoon Health Region are surprising and troubling.

She said a public entity agreeing to do a promotional video for a private company is « sort of weird » and problematic.

« You stop seeing the separation between the contractor and the contractee, » said Kilgour. « These public sector officials are supposed to be representing the public interest and we’re seeing like blurring of the relationship between the people that we in the public would be engaging to provide services to us. »

Maureen Kilgour, an associate professor of business at the University of Winnipeg, said conflict of interest policy exists to protect the public and public employees. (CBC)

She said conflict of interest policies are in place to protect public sector employees and the public from corporations seeking undue influence through gifts.

« Companies offer these things for a reason – because it’s part of their own cost of doing business. They’re trying to curry favour, build relationships and that’s really part of their marketing, » she said.

« We know that influence matters right? That’s why companies spend so much money on doing that. »

She said she was « shocked » to see that the Saskatoon Health Region explicitly allows vendor paid trips.

She said the problem with these sorts of gifts is they don’t promote transparency and are liable to abuse or, at the very least, suspicion.

« We would never know if there was some sort of favourable treatment because of these trips. That’s why we always talk about perceived conflict of interest, » she said.

Kilgour said she’s not surprised to see that private companies are offering these sorts of trips – it’s what they do. But she said politicians and bureaucrats should follow a higher standard. 

« All of these policies are really there to prevent any influence on decision making in the public and really to avoid any risk or even a perceived conflict of interest perceived influence in procurement. »

Running the public sector « more like a business »

Craddock said attending the Dell conference in Austin made a lot of sense for people in the Saskatchewan health care system.

He said eHealth and the entire system were big Dell customers.

Craddock sat in on a small group session with Dell founder and CEO Michael Dell and he learned what Dell was planning for the future. He said these sorts of interactions are valuable.

In 2016, Wilbour Craddock and his colleagues from Saskatchewan health regions attended a Dell Conference in Austin, Texas, courtesy of a private Dell reseller. (Twitter)

« People want to invest in you because they want to work with you. And they want to work with you because they understand what you’re trying to achieve and you’ve had those meaningful conversations, » he said.

He said these sorts of interactions are the norm in the private sector but acknowledged they can be controversial for public servants like himself.

« We’re always challenged in the public sector to run more like a business, » Craddock said. « When you try to run like a business you can be seen in a negative light. »

Ethics expert Kilgour said politicians and bureaucrats need to understand that standards of what is acceptable are different for people in the public and private sectors.

« It’s completely different when the public sector is involved because there’s another element of trust, » she said. « So even though they might have been naive, they might have been lulled into thinking they’re in sort of more of a private kind of corporate environment — that company to company relationships are ok. But it’s not because it is the public sector. »

Craddock said looking back at his travel practices does get him thinking.

« Does it give me pause to reflect on how best to work within the public sector? Yeah it does for sure. And if I was to walk back in time would I do things maybe differently? Yeah possibly. »

  • If you have any tips contact Geoff Leo – geoff.leo@cbc.ca

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‘She’s way out of her league’: Steel exec slams Freeland’s handling of tariff fight

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A prominent Canadian steel executive told MPs this week that Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland​’s « ego » is getting in the way of ending American tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.

Barry Zekelman, the chairman and CEO of Zekelman Industries, delivered a scathing assessment Thursday of how the Liberal government is handling the tariff fight with the United States, accusing the government of squandering opportunities to resolve the issue months ago.

« They have stalled and blown this big time, and our consumers and our industry in Canada is suffering because of it, » Zekelman told MPs on the standing committee on international trade.

« We’re waiting for someone’s ego. They need to get into a room and get the deal done … whether Freeland picks up the phone and calls (U.S. Trade Representative) Robert Lighthizer and says here it is … the deal is available this afternoon. »

Zekelman said he was making those claims based on his personal connections with President Donald Trump’s circle; he said he has dined with Trump and has met with Lighthizer. He said he believes the Americans will drop their 25 per cent tariff on steel if Canada agrees to limit its exports into the U.S. through a quota system.

« This can be solved. Literally, I can do it this afternoon, » Zekelman said. « How do I know that? I’ve talked to Mr. Lighthizer myself. »

« We could have had that a long time ago. This is the worst negotiating I’ve seen, » Zekelman said as he testified before the committee via video link.

But two senior government sources tell CBC News that Canada is not interested in accepting any sort of quota system on steel or aluminum — and Ottawa has made that clear to the Trump administration.

The quota system

Last June, the administration invoked a rarely used national security provision — Section 232 — to impose 25 per cent tariffs on steel and 10 per cent tariffs on aluminum from multiple countries, including Canada and Mexico. 
Both Canada and Mexico responded with reciprocal tariff measures shortly after.

It had been widely expected the tariffs would be lifted upon the successful completion of the NAFTA negotiations. But when all three countries reached an agreement in principle before the October 1 deadline for a new deal — the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA) — the U.S. did not remove the tariffs.

« The best outcome for both countries would be for the U.S. to rescind their tariffs, » said Adam Austen, a spokesperson for Freeland.

« The unjust and illegal tariffs that the U.S. has imposed under Section 232 are separate and apart from the USMCA negotiations. We have taken strong responsive measures to defend our workers and our industry, including measured, dollar-for-dollar tariffs. »

Zekelman’s comments came as the parliamentary committee has been taking a closer look at the impact of the tariffs on Canadian businesses and workers.

Over several days of testimony, some business owners have told MPs they have been forced to introduce layoffs or reduce shift work as a result of the tariffs.

Zekelman said that pain could have been avoided had the Canadians just accepted the American quota system.

« They will do reduced shipments, or level shipments, but they will not do increased shipments, » Zekelman said of the American negotiators.

An outspoken critic

He also took a personal shot at Freeland over her difficult relationship with Lighthizer.

« He can’t stand negotiating with her because she’s just not a businessperson. She’s way out of her league. »

Zekelman has been outspoken on the issue of U.S. tariffs — and even welcomed the idea when it was first floated back in March as a way to crack down on the dumping of cheap steel, mostly from Asia.

« Is that 25 per cent duty enough? I don’t think it is and I actually think those duties should be much higher, » he told CBC News at the time.

But his previous comments suggested he thought that Canada would get some sort of exemption. « President Trump doesn’t view Canada as an enemy, » he said at the time.

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