Canadian billionaire investor Stephen Jarislowsky is taking aim at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his handling of the SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. affair.
“I don’t have too much trust in the prime minister after the kerfuffle of how this was handled,” Jarislowsky, a former SNC board member and current director at the Canadian Foundation for Advancement of Investor Rights, told BNN Bloomberg’s Amanda Lang in a Wednesday interview.
Jarislowsky said he hopes Trudeau can find a way to see that SNC avoids criminal prosecution for 2015 fraud and corruption charges related to its business dealings in Libya, noting it would punish people who aren’t criminally responsible.
“All you can do, for the second time, is hurt the shareholders and the loyal employees and all the suppliers, and all the communities in which they work,” he said.
The political scandal in Ottawa surrounding SNC erupted following a Globe and Mail report that then-attorney general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould faced political pressure to intervene in the case, after the Public Prosecution Service of Canada declined to enter a negotiation for a remediation agreement with the company. An agreement would have allowed SNC to resolve the matter without a criminal trial.
Jarislowsky said a criminal prosecution will hinder the company’s competitiveness, adding that if the criminal prosecution goes ahead, he doesn’t think he would keep his shares in the engineering firm.
He added that fallout from a criminal prosecution, paired with the company’s decision to sell most of its stake in the Highway 407 toll road in Ontario, which Jarislowsky said is one of the “finest assets you can possibly buy,” would cause the company’s brightest people to leave.
“The best people are going to leave for the same money elsewhere and the clients are going to be very scared of hiring you. And it’s just a complete mess,” Jarislowsky said. “And to sell such a good asset in order to obtain such a vulnerable asset, to me as an investor of 70 years, doesn’t make an enormous amount of sense.”
Earlier this month, SNC agreed to sell most of its stake in the Highway 407 in Toronto to OMERS for up to $3.25 billion. Under the terms of the transaction, SNC will cut its stake in the highway to 6.76 per cent from 16.77 per cent. It will receive $3 billion when the deal closes, and $250 million in conditional payments over a 10-year period. The deal is expected to be completed within two months.
Jarislowsky urged the company to allow its shareholders to vote on the sale of part of its 407 stake in an open letter published Monday on the Canadian Foundation for Advancement of Investor Rights (FAIR Canada) website.