Former minister of justice and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould told parliament’s justice committee on Wednesday that senior officials “barraged” her with requests to drop criminal charges against SNC Lavalin, a Canadian engineering company accused of using bribes to secure government contracts in Libya. Wilson-Raybould testified that the intense political pressure included “veiled threats” and even attempts by Trudeau to persuade her to shut down the proceedings in favor of a wrist-slap fine.
“I experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada in an inappropriate effort,” she said in her opening statement.
The prime minister, Wilson-Raybould claimed, had expressed concern that the probe could endanger jobs in Quebec and asked her to “help out” with the case. In total, the former attorney general recounted 10 meetings and 10 phone calls she had with Trudeau and top government officials urging leniency for the firm.
Wilson-Raybould told the committee that she believed her refusal to abandon the prosecution was the reason she was abruptly demoted to the position of veteran affairs minister.
Her testimony has led to calls from Canada’s conservative opposition for Trudeau to step down.
“I was sickened and appalled by [Wilson-Raybould’s] story of inappropriate and, frankly, borderline illegal pressure brought to bear on her by the highest levels of Justin Trudeau’s government,” Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said.
Trudeau has dismissed demands for his resignation, insisting that he has “always acted appropriately and professionally.”
The alleged attempt to pressure Wilson-Raybould to drop the case against SNC Lavalin was first reported by the Globe and Mail in early February, creating a major headache for Trudeau’s Liberal Party ahead of federal elections in October.
SNC-Lavalin was accused of issuing $48 million in bribes to Libyan officials in the decade leading up to the NATO-led overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi’s government in 2011. The company was also charged with defrauding Libyan companies of about $130 million.
The scandal has shaken Trudeau’s image as a poster boy for progressive government. His support for a controversial pipeline in British Columbia has also left some Canadians questioning Trudeau’s ‘eco-friendly’ credentials.