(Bloomberg) -- Justin Trudeau’s new attorney general is leaving open the possibility of stepping in to help SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. settle corruption charges out of court.
Appointed justice minister last month, David Lametti was asked in an interview Sunday with CTV’s Question Period whether he could order prosecutors to give the Montreal-based construction and engineering giant a so-called remediation agreement, as it has been seeking.
“As a final step, I could issue a directive, but the Public Prosecution Service is an independent service,” he said. “They get to operate independently -- that’s part of our rule-of-law system, and the director has done so in this case.”
Lametti replaced Jody Wilson-Raybould, who Trudeau’s office allegedly pressured to seek an out-of-court settlement, according to a report last week in the Globe and Mail newspaper citing unidentified sources. The Canadian prime minister said Thursday he never “directed” anyone on the matter. The House of Commons justice committee will hold a meeting this week to decide whether to investigate the issue.
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, Chief Executive Officer Neil Bruce said in December. Preliminary hearings are still ongoing, SNC spokeswoman Daniela Pizzuto said Monday, declined to say if or when a criminal trial would begin.
The political controversy comes at an inopportune time for the firm. It issued a profit warning Monday for the second time in two weeks after it failed to reach an agreement over a dispute with a client in a Latin American mining project. Shares fell 4.8 percent to C$34.94 in Toronto, after plunging 28 percent -- the most in at least 27 years -- on the initial warning in January.
Lametti, who represents a Montreal district, echoed Trudeau’s denials in the case Sunday, saying “there has been no pressure, and there has been no direction” to him with regards to SNC-Lavalin. “Again, all we’ve heard are allegations in a newspaper. The prime minister has said that these allegations are false.”
The justice committee will meet Wednesday “to study reports of political interference in a criminal prosecution by the prime minister’s office.” While the governing Liberal Party has a majority on the committee, its chairman intends “to independently determine whether Committee study of the issue will be useful for Canadians.” In a message on Twitter, lawmaker Anthony Housefather added: “Nobody has attempted to influence me.”
Lametti said it was up to the committee to decide how to proceed, but that he didn’t think an investigation was needed. “There hasn’t been anything to my mind that justifies a committee investigation,” he said.
--With assistance from Frederic Tomesco.
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