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Trudeau says report his office pressed former justice minister to drop SNC-Lavalin prosecution ‘false’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says a report by the Globe and Mail that his office tried to get the former justice minister to prevent a trial of SNC-Lavalin is “false.”

But he refused to give clear answers when pressed by reporters on whether he or his office tried to “influence” the prosecution of the case more broadly.

“The allegations in the Globe story this morning are false,” Trudeau told reporters when asked about the allegations.

“Neither the current nor the previous attorney general was ever directed by me nor anyone in my office to take a decision in this matter.”

Reporters noted that the questions raised in the article are not only about “directing” action.

“Not necessarily direct, prime minister. Was there any sort of influence whatsoever,” one reporter asked.

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Trudeau responded by saying again that “at no time did we direct the attorney general, current or previous, to take any decision whatsoever in this matter.”

READ MORE: SNC-Lavalin considers pulling out from Saudi Arabia amid deepening diplomatic row

While Trudeau was not in question period, the question of the allegations dominated political debate with both Conservatives and NDP MPs accusing the government of dodging questions.

David Lametti, the attorney general, echoed the remarks by Trudeau but broadened them slightly to add that there had not only been no “directions” from officials to get involved, but also no “pressure,” which is what The Globe and Mail alleged.

WATCH BELOW: Attorney General Lametti takes heat in QP about alleged PMO interference in SNC-Lavalin case

“As the prime minister stated earlier today, these allegations are false,” Lametti said in one of several cases of repeated hammering by the opposition.

“Neither me nor my predecessor were subjected to pressure nor received any directions from the prime minister or his office.”

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer in question period called the allegations “disturbing” and criticized Trudeau for offering a “carefully scripted, legalistic answer.” He also called for “full disclosure” in comments made ahead of that to reporters in Ottawa.

WATCH BELOW: SNC Lavalin faces more charges from RCMP

According to the report by The Globe and Mail, published Thursday morning, Trudeau’s office asked former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene and ask federal prosecutors to cut a deal to help the Montreal engineering firm avoid an expensive trial over the corruption and fraud charges it faces over alleged bribes paid to Libyan officials between 2001 and 2011.

SNC Lavalin reportedly lobbied federal officials to let it admit wrongdoing and pay a fine instead under a process known as a “deferred prosecution agreement” or “remediation agreement.”

WATCH BELOW: Andrew Scheer calls reports of PMO interference ‘disturbing’

Listings on the website of the federal lobbying commissioner show multiple reports of lobbying filed by Neil Bruce, president and CEO of SNC-Lavalin, over recent months of senior advisors in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Those listings report the lobbying as on “justice and law enforcement” but do not mention specifics.

WATCH: PM denies SNC-Lavalin interference allegations

Because of that, it is not yet possible to verify the report from the Globe and Mail that those communications may have been about any potential deferred prosecution agreement.

Global News asked SNC-Lavalin whether any of the reported lobbying were specifically about deferred prosecution and who specifically from the company carried them out.

The company refused to comment.

WATCH BELOW: Andrew Scheer questions Trudeau’s response to allegations of PMO interference in SNC-Lavalin case

Federal prosecutors, the report states, refused to negotiate and as a result, the Prime Minister’s Office put pressure on Wilson-Raybould to intervene and persuade them to change their minds on cutting a deal.

READ MORE: Former SNC Lavalin CEO Pierre Duhaime pleads guilty for role in hospital bribery

Wilson-Raybould, the Globe’s sources suggested, believed doing so would constitute political interference and did not want to get involved.

She was booted from the high-profile portfolio last month and is now Minister of Veterans Affairs.

READ MORE: SNC-Lavalin pens letter in hopes of rallying public support over criminal charges

In an unusual public letter issued after she was shuffled, Wilson-Raybould stressed the need for the justice system to remain free of the perception of interference but did not comment on the specifics of why she wanted to make that point.

“It is a pillar of our democracy that our system of justice be free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence,” she said in the letter.

“As such, it has always been my view that the attorney-general of Canada must be non-partisan, more transparent in the principles that are the basis of decisions, and, in this respect, always willing to speak truth to power. This is how I served throughout my tenure in that role.”

Wilson-Raybould did not deny the allegations in the Globe report but was quoted as saying she could not comment on the matter.

 A timeline of SNC-Lavalin bribery and corruption investigations

April 2012: The RCMP conducted a search at SNC-Lavalin’s Montreal headquarters. The Canadian Press reported the raid was in connection with allegations of corruption and bribery in Libya. The search came after the departure of three key executives earlier that year, including CEO Pierre Duhaime.

An executive who had already parted ways with the company, Riadh Ben Aissa, was arrested by Swiss authorities on corruption, fraud and money laundering allegations. He was later convicted in the case and admitted to bribing Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s son and accepting kickbacks on contracts.

November 2012: Duhaime was charged in a fraud probe involving the McGill University super-hospital and allegations SNC executives paid kickbacks to secure the $1.3-billion contract. Others, including Ben Aissa and hospital officials, would go on to face prosecution in the case.

February 2015: Charges were laid against SNC-Lavalin, its construction division and a subsidiary, SNC-Lavalin International Inc. The RCMP accused the company of funnelling more than $47 million to Libyan officials and defrauding Libyan organizations of about $130 million over the course of a decade. The company denied the allegations.

July 2018: Ben Aissa was sentenced to 51 months in prison in the hospital scandal after pleading guilty to using a forged document.

October 2018: Prosecutors declined to use a new remediation law to broker a deal that would settle the charges against the company in the Libya case in exchange for fines and other measures.

SNC published an letter of apology in several Canadian newspapers saying that while the events prior to 2012 should not have taken place, they resulted in “fundamental cultural, governance and leadership changes” at the company.

Later that month, a preliminary inquiry began in Quebec to determine whether there is enough evidence for the charges against SNC-Lavalin to proceed.

February 2019: Duhaime was convicted in the Montreal hospital case, and sentenced to 20 months house arrest.

With files from the Canadian Press and Kerri Breen

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