Canadians doing business abroad need to know that bribing foreign officials and encouraging corruption in foreign countries carries the risk of stiff criminal sentences at home, an Ottawa judge warned Friday.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland issued the warning while sentencing Ottawa consultant Nazir Karigar — the first person to be convicted under Canada’s foreign anti-corruption law — to three years in prison.
Prior to this case, only corporations had been convicted under the act.
The 67-year-old Karigar acted with “a complete sense of entitlement” while engineering a bid-rigging scheme that involved bribing Air India officials and an Indian cabinet minister, the judge said.
“The corruption of foreign public officials, particularly in developing countries, is enormously harmful and is likely to undermine the rule of law,” he said.
“The idea that bribery is simply a cost of doing business in many countries, and should be treated as such by Canadian firms competing for business in those countries, must be disavowed.”
Karigar, dressed casually in blue jeans, showed no emotion as the judge passed sentence. Prior to being taken to holding cells in the courthouse basement, he appeared to be texting.
The maximum sentence when Karigar committed the offence was five years but is soon to be increased to 14 years.
His lawyer, Israel Gencher, asked the judge to consider Karigar’s age, health issues and lack of a criminal record and allow the him to serve his sentence in the community. Karigar had pleaded not guilty.
Crown prosecutor Moray Welch asked for a four-year sentence.
Karigar conspired with employees or associates of Ottawa security company CryptoMetrics, to win a multimillion-dollar, facial-recognition software contract.
CryptoMetrics transferred $450,000 US into Karigar’s account with which Karigar organized a $200,000 US bribe for the co-chair of the selection committee for the Air India security project and a $250,000 US bribe for then-minister of civil aviation Praful Patel.
There was no evidence offered at the trial that the money was actually paid to the Indian officials.
CryptoMetrics didn’t get the contract.
Prosecutor Welch had told the court that Karigar was the brains behind the scheme that dated back to 2007 and told others “what they had to do and how to do it.
“Without him, none of it would have happened at all,” said Welch, adding it involved a sophisticated level of planning.
According to the evidence, Karigar set up a dummy company to submit a competing and higher bid to give the illusion of competition and CryptoMetrics agreed to provide the money.
In an unusual twist, Karigar appeared to have ultimately blown the whistle on himself.
After falling out with CryptoMetrics officials, he anonymously emailed the U.S. Department of Justice in 2008 to report that the chief executive and the chief operating officer of the U.S. arm of the company were involved in an Air India bribery scheme.
He said that $250,000 was paid “for the minister to bless the system.”
When police became involved, Karigar tried unsuccessfully to get himself an immunity agreement.
Welch argued that Karigar had been motivated by greed and at his pre-sentencing hearing urged the judge to send a tough message to other Canadian business people who might be tempted to follow similar paths.
The judge said he was persuaded that bribery and corruption cases involving Canadian companies and foreign officials were complex and difficult to prosecute but that tough sentences would deter others.
He noted that Karigar had saved significant trial time by co-operating with the investigation and prior to the bid-rigging scheme appeared to have been a respectable businessman.
But, he added, if the “carefully planned bribery scheme” had been successful, it would have ultimately involved millions of dollars in bribes.