Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Warrant issued for former head of CSIS watchdog

Porter joins others facing fraud allegations

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MONTREAL -- Once entrusted with keeping an eye on the country's spy agency, Arthur Porter is now a wanted man.

The former head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service watchdog agency was among five people named in arrest warrants issued Wednesday by Quebec's anti-corruption squad for allegations of fraud in one of the country's most expensive infrastructure projects.

The Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper finds itself facing uncomfortable questions over its decision to appoint Porter -- a medical doctor and cancer specialist -- to a board that reviews some of the most sensitive files held by Canada's spy service.

The warrants say the men are wanted on numerous charges -- including fraud, breach of trust and document forgery -- in relation to the $1.3-billion construction of a Montreal mega-hospital.

The others being sought are: former SNC-Lavalin senior executives Pierre Duhaime and Riadh Ben Aissa; former high-ranking hospital executive Yanai Elbaz; and Jeremy Morris, the administrator of a Bahamas-based investment company linked to the fraud allegations.

Porter and Elbaz are suspected of having accepted bribes from some of the others, the warrants say.

Elbaz, once a top McGill University Hospital Centre executive, was arrested Wednesday. He is scheduled to appear in a Quebec court today.

Canadian authorities are now trying to extradite Porter and Morris from the Bahamas. Porter runs a private medical clinic in Nassau, where he is being treated for cancer.

Quebec's provincial police anti-corruption squad has made numerous arrests over the last year in relation to continuing scandals in the construction industry.

All the events in these latest arrest warrants allegedly took place between Oct. 16, 2009, and Aug. 31, 2011. Porter was the director general of the McGill University Hospital Centre when the alleged fraud occurred.

He was also head of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, or SIRC, which he joined in 2008 before becoming its chairman in 2010.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae, himself once a member of SIRC, told The Canadian Press Porter would have been privy to highly sensitive information during his tenure on the board.

"All the members of SIRC have top security clearance. They would routinely receive any and all information from CSIS that is asked for," he said.

"They would be aware of the overall policy direction of CSIS, particular concerns of CSIS with respect to threats to the security of the country."

Rae questioned the Harper government's decision to appoint Porter to SIRC.

Porter resigned under unclear circumstances in 2011 and left the country. The federal government has since tightened the screening process for nominees to the intelligence committee.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews fended off questions about Porter's appointment in the House of Commons.

"Arthur Porter submitted his resignation and it was accepted almost two years ago," he said.

"However, the leaders of the NDP and the Liberal party were consulted prior to his appointment and they consented to the appointment. The allegations that Mr. Porter is facing do not have anything to do with his former responsibilities."

Duhaime, the former chief executive officer of engineering powerhouse SNC-Lavalin, had already been charged earlier this month with fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud and issuing false documents.

Duhaime and another former top executive, Ben Aissa, were charged in connection with a contract involving the building of the mega-hospital.

But police said the charges related to the Wednesday arrest warrant are separate from the ones Duhaime and Ben Aissa already face.

Duhaime is due back in court May 23 and is not allowed to leave Canada. Meanwhile, Ben Aissa has been detained in Switzerland since April 2012 and is awaiting trial there on charges related to alleged corruption, fraud and money-laundering in North African countries, including Libya.

In a statement Wednesday, SNC-Lavalin said it had just learned of the additional charges against Duhaime and Aissa.

"As we have stated repeatedly, SNC-Lavalin has and will continue to co-operate fully with all authorities who request our assistance," the company said.

"We have voluntarily turned over information that we have to local and other authorities for them to take any actions that they may consider appropriate."

In a rare interview at his health clinic in the Bahamas, Porter said he has done nothing wrong. He characterized the allegations against him as "spurious" and the result of a "witch hunt."

"I mean, it just seemed that there were attacks from all angles," Porter told the CBC.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 28, 2013 A10

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