MONTREAL—One of the accused in an alleged $22.5-million fraud case involving former SNC-Lavalin executives in the awarding of the contract for Montreal’s $1.3-billion superhospital wants a stay of proceedings.
Yohann Elbaz’s lawyer argued in court Wednesday that, even after factoring in defence-related delays, his client has waited longer than he should have for his trial since his April 2013 arrest.
Walid Hijazi attributed much of the 55-month delay to the Crown and police.
“Instead of being proactive and trying to minimize delays, the prosecution has always acted in a reactionary way, systematically, up until today,” Hijazi told Quebec court Judge Genevieve Graton.
Elbaz’s trial is scheduled to begin in October 2018.
Hijazi said his client was always treated the same as the other accused in what one investigator described as the biggest fraud case in Canadian history.
Elbaz originally faced 16 charges and Hijazi said the prosecution would repeat that the evidence against his client “was exactly the same evidence” as that against the other accused.
This year, the number of charges against Elbaz was reduced to three: conspiracy, recycling the proceeds of crime, and using false documents.
“It (lowering the number of charges) was uniquely done to protect themselves from the Jordan decision at a point when it was far too late,” Hijazi told the court.
The Supreme Court set specific deadlines in 2016 for cases to reach trial.
Its so-called Jordan decision stipulates that the trial of an accused in superior court has to be completed within 30 months of his or her arrest, while the length of time in provincial courts is set at 18 months.
Prosecutor Nathalie Kleber, in a written reply filed in court, stated the delay in Elbaz’s case is reasonable given the evidence is voluminous and very complex.
The Crown said numerous parallel probes were ongoing, including one by Quebec’s financial markets regulator.
She noted the case was also discussed at length during the province’s corruption inquiry, the Charbonneau Commission, causing further delays.
Hijazi accused police of moving too quickly to arrest his client and said poor case management is behind the delays. He noted that a preliminary inquiry scheduled to last a maximum of four weeks took more than 18 months to complete.
Even as proceedings continued, parallel police investigations resulted in more evidence and new arrests and meant constant disclosure delays.
Elbaz, a former lawyer, is one of five people charged. The others are his brother Yanai Elbaz, a former McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) executive, and ex-SNC-Lavalin executives Pierre Duhaime, Riadh Ben Aissa and Stephane Roy.
There is a publication ban on the evidence in the case.
Also charged in the case was the late Arthur Porter, a former CEO of the MUHC who died of cancer in Panama as he fought extradition to Canada.
According to court files, Roy will be tried in 2018, while the three others will face trial in 2019.