Transparency International Canada Not So Transparent

In 2017, the anti-corruption group Transparency International Canada received a donation of $112,708.08 and listed it as from an “anonymous donor known to TI-Canada.”

“TI Canada conducted due diligence on the donor before accepting funds,” the group noted. “The decision to accept the donation was made by TI Canada’s Board of Directors following a thorough consideration of the matter.”

Transparency International Canada is an affiliate of the umbrella group Transparency International in Berlin, which has a donations policy that provides that “Each TI body should list all donations over 1,000 Euros (about $1500 Canadian) and publicly disclose them.”

James Cohen, the executive director of Transparency International Canada, interprets that policy as requiring a disclosure of the donation, not the donor.

“The TI guidelines say that all TI chapters should disclose all donations over 1,000 euros,” Cohen told Corporate Crime Reporter in an email last week. “We did disclose that we received the funds, and we do know the identity of the donor, but due to their funding mandate, we are keeping their identity anonymous.”

Transparency International Canada is controlled by large corporate interests and corporate law firms. Its funders include corporations like Deloitte, TD Bank and Siemens and corporate law firms like Bennett Jones, Aird & Berlis, Blakes and Denton’s.

Cohen has been quoted recently in the Canadian press on the question of the corruption scandal nipping at the heels of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

That scandal involves the case of SNC-Lavalin, one of the largest construction firms in Canada. In 2015, SNC-Lavalin was charged by federal prosecutors in Canada with paying millions of dollars in bribes in Libya between 2001 and 2011.

Over the last few years, in response to the criminal proceedings against it, SNC-Lavalin engaged in a successful public campaign to push through a federal law that would allow for deferred prosecutions in Canada.

And once the law was passed, the company sought to get federal prosecutors to enter into such a deferred prosecution, thus saving the company from a criminal prosecution. Last October, federal prosecutors refused to invite SNC-Lavalin to discuss a deferred prosecution and proceeded on with the criminal case.

But that didn’t stop the Prime Minister’s office from talking with prosecutors about the SNC-Lavalin case. In the past couple of weeks, the Attorney General was shuffled over to head Veteran Affairs and then resigned. Trudeau’s chief of staff  then resigned. And thus the resulting scandal brewing north of the border.

Anti-corruption groups in the United States, such as Public Citizen, see deferred prosecution agreements as a favorite tool for powerful corporations to avoid criminal prosecutions.

But during the SNC-Lavalin’s public campaign for deferred prosecutions, the company enlisted a number of Canadian non-governmental organizations to put out papers in favor of deferred prosecutions.

One such group was the Institute for Research on Public Policy. They put out a paper in 2016 calling for the government “to adopt a regime of deferred prosecution agreements.” That paper was funded by SNC Lavalin and other corporations.

In 2017, Transparency International Canada released a report recommending that the government of Canada adopt deferred prosecution agreements.

Was SNC-Lavalin the anonymous donor who gave the $112,708.08 to Transparency International Canada?

“We can say the donor is not SNC-Lavalin,” Cohen says. “TI Canada has never received money from SNC-Lavalin. As a matter of standing policy, we do not accept funds from any company involved in any ongoing corruption-related proceedings.”

Who paid for the TI-Canada report on deferred prosecutions?

“No one paid for the report,” Cohen said. “It was volunteer exercise undertaken by the authors listed in the report. No SNC rep or lawyer inputed into the report.”

Then Cohen comes back with a correction.

In fact, Transparency International Canada has received donations from SNC-Lavalin.

There was a $2,500 donation in 2014 for the “simultaneous translation of an event in Montreal.” Plus four or five SNC Lavalin executives are members of TI-Canada and pay $100 or $150 each a year, Cohen said.

Turns out the Montreal event included a Transparency International Canada/Business Roundtable session on April 29, 2014 titled  — SNC Lavalin – From Crisis to Ethics Excellence.

Cohen said that he couldn’t track down any notes or transcript of the event.

And it turns out that SNC-Lavalin has donated to Transparency International Berlin to the tune of 2,870 euros ($3,270 USD) in 2003, 2,130 euros ($2,427 USD) in 2004, and 2,500 euros ($2,848 USD) in 2005 for a total of 7,500 euros ($8,545 USD).

Last week, James Cohen appeared on the Canadian public affairs program The Agenda with Steve Paikin.

Paikin assumed that an anti-corruption organization would be opposed to a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC Lavalin.

“James, your organization is an anti-corruption organization,” Paikin said to Cohen. “Do I infer from that that you would be against the kind of agreement that would defer prosecution?”

“No,” Cohen said. “Actually, we put out a report in 2017 in favor of deferred prosecution agreements.”

Yes they did. And in that same year they accepted a donation of $112,708.08. And they refuse to identify the donor.

We asked Cohen whether the donor had any connection to SNC-Lavalin.

“If the donor does have a connection to SNC-Lavalin, it is unknown to us,” Cohen said.

In doing due diligence of the donor was the question of connection to SNC-Lavalin raised?

“No, SNC was not specifically raised,” Cohen said.


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