The sudden resignation of a Canadian minister on Tuesday has turned allegations of government intervention into the trial of a giant Canadian engineering firm into a deep political crisis for the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The resignation of Judy Wilson-Raybould came after a series of claims by the Canadian government to clarify the allegations that Trudeau’s office had put pressure on the minister to intervene in the criminal trial of engineering firm SNC-Lavalin.
The Montreal-based firm has been facing corruption charges since 2015 for allegedly bribing officials in Libya between 2001 and 2011 to secure contracts for government projects during the reign of leader Muammar Gaddafi.
On Twitter, Wilson-Raybould, Canada’s first public prosecutor and justice minister before moving to another post last month announced her decision to leave the government “with sad feelings”.
Trudeau said he was “surprised and disappointed” by the announcement of the resignation.
“Our government has done its job properly and in accordance with all the laws”, Trudeau said, referring to the former justice minister because she did not address him directly to express her fears if she felt otherwise.
SNC-Lavalin has pressed the government and senior officials of the Trudeau’s office to reach an out-of-court settlement involving a fine and approval of compliance procedures, because its conviction within the court would jeopardize its business and thousands of jobs.
But the Globe and Mail newspapers quoted an undisclosed source as saying Wilson-Raybould had refused to ask prosecutors to agree to a settlement with SNC-Lavalin, and the trial was expected to continue.
Trudeau denied the allegations and said: “At no time have I or my office directed the current Minister of Justice or the former to take any specific decision in this regard”.
Opposition parties continued to press for more clarification.
The two opened an independent commission of ethics, the second against Prime Minister Trudeau, who was elected in 2015 after pledging to stamp out corruption and eight months before running for the next election.
Despite the heated debate over the issue in Canada, Wilson-Raybould refused to talk about the issue, citing restrictions on preserving government business secrets.
The Canadian court’s charges against SNC-Lavalin were the latest strikes by one of the world’s biggest construction and engineering firms after the World Bank banned it from bidding for new projects until 2023 due to “misconduct” in Bangladesh and Cambodia.
The company is accused of providing 47 million Canadian dollars (36 million dollars) as bribes to officials and fraud on the Libyan government for 130 million Canadian dollars (98 million US dollars).
The company oversaw multi-billion dollar projects in Libya, including building a prison outside Tripoli and an airport in Benghazi.
The charges relate to the “Great Artificial River” project to provide fresh water to the cities of Tripoli, Benghazi and Sirte, one of the largest irrigation projects in the world.
The company said those responsible for the irregularities had long since left, and to blame the current administration for what they had done could hurt its business enormously.