Canada court gives clean chit to Padma Bridge

A Canadian court has dismissed the graft allegation in Padma Bridge project and acquitted three business executives of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. throwing out wiretap evidence and saying the wiretap applications were based on ‘gossip and rumour, Canadian Newspaper the Globe and Mail reports.

“Reduced to its essentials, the information provided in the [wiretap applications] was nothing more than speculation, gossip and rumour,” Judge Nordheimer of the Ontario Superior Court of Canada concluded.The decision came after Crown attorney Tanit Gilliam elected to call no witnesses at the trial following the judge’s decision to exclude wiretap evidence.

The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) in Bangladesh cleared all the accused in the Padma Bridge graft case as its investigation did not find any evidence of ‘corruption conspiracy’ in hiring consultant for the Padma Bridge Project. But unhappy World Bank alleged corruption in Padma Bridge project and began investigation in 2010.

It requested the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to take necessary actions based on the evidence they got during their own investigations and from ‘four informants’, whom the court has now called ‘tipsters’.

“Nothing that could fairly be referred to as direct factual evidence, to support the rumour and speculation, was provided or investigated. The information provided by the tipsters was hearsay (or worse) added to other hearsay”, quoting the Judge’s verdict the newspaper said.

The verdict proved that Bangladesh government stand on World Bank’s allegation against Padma Bridge was right and a nexus comprising local and international persons and institutes were active to tarnish Bangladesh’s image at home and abroad that it is incapable of implementing mega projects and also to hinder the smooth pace of Bangladesh’s move towards development.

Padma Bridge Project is a dream project of the Awami League-led government, which initiated the project titled “Padma Setu Prokalpo” in 1998 for the first time. After returning to power in 2009, it revived the initiative once again and started searching financer around the globe to implement the US$4 to 5 billion project (the projected cost was around $3 billion which is now around $6 billion).

The World Bank, Japanese money lending agency JICA, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other international finance agencies showed interest to invest in the project.

Following the assurances from the money lending agencies, Bangladesh government completed the feasibility study and started the job of designing the project, unfortunately the World Bank local office came up with “corruption conspiracy” and at one stage it said they have ‘evidence’ of ‘corruption.’

World Bank initially proposed funding much of the project but on June 29 in 2012, it cancelled its $1.2 billion funding for the bridge project, saying it had proof of a “corruption conspiracy” involving Bangladeshi officials, executives of a Canadian firm and some individuals. As like cascade affect Japan, ADB, IDB pulled out from the deal. The then Communication Minister Syed Abul Hossain lost his job in this connection. Bangladesh is now building the bridge with its own money. A Chinese firm has been tasked with the construction of the bridge.

The anti-graft national body filed the case on December 17 in 2012 against seven people for their alleged involvement in the Padma Bridge project graft dropping the names of key suspects former Communications Minister Syed Abul Hossain and former State Minister for Foreign Affairs Abul Hasan Chowdhury.

The ‘unhappy’ World Bank local office filed a case with a court in Canada in this connection and the hearing in Canadian court began in April 2013.

The RCMP originally charged five people with corruption in the case, but charges against two of the accused – Mohammad Ismail and Abul Hasan Chowdhury – were previously dropped.

The case against the remaining three accused – former SNC vice-president of energy and infrastructure Kevin Wallace, former SNC vice-president of international development Ramesh Shah, and Bangladeshi-Canadian businessman Zulfiquar Ali Bhuiyan – ended on Friday when Judge Nordheimer acquitted all three.

ACC accused in the Padma bridge graft case were former secretary of Bridge Division Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan (now member of the Privatisation Board), superintendent engineer (river control) of Bangladesh Bridge Authority Kazi M Ferdous, executive engineer (bridge construction and maintenance) of Roads and Highways Department M Riaz Ahmed Zaber, deputy managing director of Engineer and Planning Consultant Limited Mohammad Mustafa, former director (international project division) of SNC LavalinInc Mohammad Ismail, former vice president (international project division) of SNC Lavalin Ramesh Shah and former vice-president of SNC Lavalin Kevin Wallace.

According to agencies Justice Ian Nordheimer of the Ontario Superior Court ruled that he had serious concerns about three applications the RCMP filed in 2011 to get court approval to use wiretaps. The RCMP had sought the approval as it probed allegations that SNC staff planned to bribe officials in Bangladesh to try to win a $50-million contract to supervise construction on the country’s Padma Bridge project.

“The Crown had the opportunity to reassess the case and concluded we had no reasonable prospect of conviction based on the evidence,” Gilliam told the court.


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