Riadh Ben Aissa paper trail leads to Mount Pearl

Michael Johansen
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At first it looked like the Tunisian-Canadian wheeler and dealer Riadh Ben Aissa was going to have a long and fruitful career as a businessman in Newfoundland and Labrador, but it was ultimately not to be.

Fruitful his company’s activities were, for sure, for much of the time that he was one of two directors (along with the now-late SNC-Lavalin engineer Elwood J. Reid) of BAE-SNC Ltd., a “local” company registered in Mount Pearl that was listed as having been incorporated with share capital in 1991. From that time until it was dissolved by its parent company in 2008, BAE-SNC was involved in various ways in the biggest financial mega-projects on the go in Newfoundland and Labrador.

For example, it helped win the lucrative engineering, procurement and construction management contract for the mine, concentrator and other facilities at Voisey’s Bay, Labrador, and it laid the groundwork for securing an even bigger prize: the Lower Churchill hydroelectric project.

That was partially done through the establishment of Innu-SNC Lavalin Corporation in 2008, a partnership formed with four listed directors: two SNC-Lavalin vice-presidents, Albert Williams and Steve Lindley, and two Innu politicians, Prote Poker and Anastasia Qupee — the latter two who would soon afterwards act in their political roles to sign the controversial New Dawn agreement on behalf of the Innu people, an agreement that ultimately resulted in SNC-Lavalin getting the rich engineering, procurement and construction management contract for the two or three hydro dams planned for Muskrat Falls.

With BAE-SNC being such a success under his directorship, Ben Aissa’s future as a driving force in the province’s mega-project economy would seem to have been assured, but when his Mount Pearl company was dissolved his official influence vanished, as well.

By then, however, his co-director had moved on across the corporate latticework, and most of BAE-SNC’s functions were assumed by the closely related SNC-Lavalin subsidiary called BAE-Newplan Group Ltd., where Elwood Reid spent much of his time collaborating with SNC-Lavalin’s Lower Churchill project director, vice-president François Couturier, “on the proposal and then on the startup of the project.”

Maybe if Ben Aissa had spent more time in the province he could have stayed as closely involved and cemented his place in Newfoundland’s business elite and even gotten a seat on a chamber of commerce somewhere, but it seems he was so extraordinarily busy elsewhere scaring up more business for SNC-Lavalin around the world that he had no more time for SNC-Lavalin’s affairs in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Ben Aissa’s involvement through BAE-SNC in developments at Voisey’s Bay and Muskrat Falls did not become widely known until the political gadfly known as Brad Cabana recently released the results of research he’s been conducting in the provincial government’s registry of deeds and companies, but Ben Aissa’s various other worldwide business dealings had already become public knowledge when SNC-Lavalin’s Tunisian-based executive vice-president of infrastructure, water, geotechnical and laboratories, construction and defence contractors was arrested and jailed in Switzerland last year as part of an investigation into money laundering, fraud and corruption in several North African countries.

RCMP interest

Investigations into allegations of improper payments connected to Ben Aissa’s actions on behalf of SNC-Lavalin so far involve projects in Libya, Algeria, Angola, Pakistan,  Quebec and now, quite possibly, Newfoundland and Labrador — at least, Cabana reports that the RCMP logged onto his blogsite less than half an hour after he posted the information he’d gleaned about Ben Aissa’s Mount Pearl company, so if the police didn’t know about the once-lauded but now discredited SNC-Lavalin executive’s possible involvement in the multi-billion-dollar Voisey’s Bay and Muskrat Falls contracts, they do now.

What is sure is that if the RCMP isn’t investigating this situation, it should be — if only to make sure no public officials in Newfoundland and Labrador were receiving any illegal payments.

However, someone should also be investigating these clear indications that Poker and Qupee were in a conflict of interest, signing political agreements that will enrich them financially because of private business partnerships. Did they negotiate to benefit their people, or themselves?

A call made to the RCMP’s major crime section to ask if any investigations into these matters are underway was not returned.

Michael Johansen is a writer

 living in Labrador.

Organizations: SNC-Lavalin, BAE-SNC, RCMP SNC Lavalin Corporation New Dawn BAE-Newplan Group

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Mount Pearl, Switzerland Libya Algeria Angola Pakistan Quebec

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Recent comments

  • TO JUST SAYIN ---- you have FINGERED what has ailed Newfoundland and Labrador economically for as long as it has been in being.
    April 26, 2013 - 08:26

    TO: JUST SAYIN A Great Point you have made on this post, this is the malaise or corruption we have to battle in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is what has kept us in the "Have-Not" position forever despite our great location and endowment of natural resources which have served only to enrich others in other parts of Canada and the World.

    • Justin Sayin
      April 26, 2013 - 12:25

      Yes , we can see the INjustice for the average Innu. You are right that this is the pattern of what has happened to produce INjustice for the average Nflder too. Anyone familiar with our history knows this. We, as a society, remain poor in a area blessed with resources. Corrupt and uncaring politicians on the whole, and disengaged citizens, who are too trusting. The average Nflder and average Innu have much in common.

  • Just sayin
    April 25, 2013 - 15:15

    Justice would dictate that the Innu PEOPLE should receive considerable benefits from the upper Churchill and lower Churchill. The have been screwed on both. The Innu leaders , through the New Dawn Agreement , and those with relationships with major contractors will benefit. But it is just the few. Seems their people has been sold "a bill of goods". Most Innu will remain in poverty and kids will suffer and tend to self destruct with gas sniffing etc. But isn't this the way for most of Canada? Pay offs for the few Innu , so others benefit from the resources.. As a society we continue to rob the average Innu, who are sold out by their leaders. It is INjustice for Innu.

  • I have a question, is the Muskrat Falls Project the plan that will settle the INNU Land Claims?
    April 22, 2013 - 08:27

    The Land Claims of the First Nations of Canada, including Newfoundland and Labrador Should and Must be settled, they should have been settled many years ago. I have been, all along, under the assumption that it was the Federal Government's responsibility, but it appears from my reading of this column by Mr. Johansen, that in the case of the Innu, it will be the Lower Churchill Muskrat Falls Project and the Hydro Consumers of Newfoundland and Labrador, who through their hydro bills, will have to shoulder the responsibility of the settlement of the Land Claims of the Innu of Newfoundland and Labrador? I could be wrong in my interpretation of what I read in Mr. Johansen's column, so if there is someone out there reading my commentary and thinks my interpretation is wrong, could he or she please set me straight! This is a big learning curve for me, as well, as a lot of other people.

  • Corporate Psycho
    April 21, 2013 - 19:25

    Great article. An anti corruption squad is needed in NL.

  • Colin Burke
    April 21, 2013 - 08:56

    Michael, I do believe I will read your column religiously from now on; I have in the past been too much inclined to skip it. Thank you.

  • Wejitu
    April 20, 2013 - 23:28

    MIcky, you're back! Throwing a bit of slander around there against two good Innu people eh! Typical.

  • Thank You Mr Johansen
    April 20, 2013 - 12:36

    Must not forget about Innu Development Limited Partnership, partner of SNC-Lavalin with the CEO Paul Rich who reportedly made $658, 847 in 2012. IDLP is the same establishment that gave Peter Penashue the so called interest free loan of $25,000 for his campaign, the same Peter Penashue that was heavily involved in the New Dawn agreement.

  • Cyril Rogers
    April 20, 2013 - 11:22

    Correction on the typos; the statement should have read: "Thanks to a majority that enabled them to pass legislation to hide their own activities, with Bill 29 and other legislation."........ I find the comments section of this paper difficult to navigate, especially with the lack of paragraphs, and have asked the paper to review their posting of comments.

  • Thanks Michael Johansen.
    April 20, 2013 - 10:00

    Thanks Michael for providing such pertinent information in your today's columnl! Now that you have passed along that info to the public based on Brad Cabana's recently released results of the research that he conducted in the provincial government’s registry of deeds and companies, there is no doubt about it the RCMP should know all the details and twe expect them to be the auditors of the dealings that transpire between Nalcor, the Newfoundland and Labrador Government and SNC Lavelin. I do hope that after reading the revealations of your column, the electorate of Newfoundland and Labrador should be expect honest dealings to be conducted with that Corporation. The last thing we want to see are kick-backs that will be passed on to the hydro consumer and tax payers of Newfoundland and Labrador.

  • Cyril Rogers
    April 20, 2013 - 09:41

    There are so many "unknowns" to this entire project...due to its association characters like Ben Aissa...and his connections to SNC-Lavalin. The stench of corruption with that entity should leave all of us, including the government and NALCOR, with great feelings of unease. After all, we are putting our faith in a corporate entity whose modus operandi appears to be bribery and corruption. Problem is...our government is a closed and secret entity themselves.....thanks to a majority that pass enabled them to hide them own activities with bill 29 and other legislation. All we get is political spin and talking points worthy of a tinpot dictatorship.

  • Michael Johansen
    April 20, 2013 - 08:42

    Correction: "Pakistan" should read "Bangladesh" and now Cambodia can also be added to the list. MFJ

  • Maurice E. Adams
    April 20, 2013 - 08:27

    Government, aboriginal leadership, corporate structures --- interlinked?........... . Nalcor's DG2 forecast rate of increase in peak demand for 2012 was more than 5 times the island's actual increase, and the forecast rate of increase for year 2013 was 1.5 times more......... Millions (billions) up for grabs. All made available by way of an electricity tax grab that is being sold/marketed as a needed Muskrat Falls energy project..... Do we have corruption writ large?