Tories awarded £1.2m contract to Canadian firm which bribed Muammar Gaddafi’s son

The Conservative government has given more than £1m of taxpayer funds to a firm that bribed Muammar Gaddafi’s son during the Gaddafi dictatorship.

The government awarded a £1.2m contract to AtkinsRéalis, a company that pleaded guilty to bribing the son of Muammar Gaddafi with tens of millions of dollars to win contracts in Libya in the decade before the dictator’s downfall between 2001 and 2011.

Department for Transport documents reveal the firm bid for the contract for the provision of specialist technical and commercial advice to support its oversight of rail fares, ticketing and retailing policy.

Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi (Reuters)
Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi (Reuters)

AtkinsRéalis, which rebranded from its previous trading name, SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., was awarded the contract in September 2023 and it is set to run until December 2025. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by the company.

A spokesman for AtkinsRéalis said: “The events in question occurred before 2012. The company has transformed culturally, operationally and in its governance over the last decade, with a new leadership team and a robust and transparent integrity and compliance programme recognised and independently verified by the Ethisphere Institute, a global leader in ethical business practices.”

SNC-Lavalin is the £6bn giant formed in 1991 when Canada’s two biggest construction firms, SNC and Lavalin, merged. Lavalin had previously worked on the roof for Montreal’s stadium for the 1976 Olympics during Justin Trudeau’s father Pierre’s time as prime minister.

Outside Canada, SNC-Lavalin has been linked with historic allegations of bribery and corruption.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper has been in post since October 2022 (PA Wire)
Transport Secretary Mark Harper has been in post since October 2022 (PA Wire)

In India it won a government contract in 1995 to renovate and modernise a hydroelectric power station. SNC was accused of bribery and financial fraud. A government investigation resulted in the expulsion of several Indian government officials.

More recently in Bangladesh four former SNC-Lavalin employees were cleared of graft charges over their role in the construction of the Padma Bridge. The four-mile long bridge cost $3bn to build.

Much of SNC-Lavalin’s problems stemmed from Libya, where it pleaded guilty to handing $48m in bribes to officials to win contracts in the decade before Gaddafi’s downfall.

Two former SNC-Lavalin employees were charged in 2014 by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police with bribing Libyan officials to win deals over the course of a decade.

Canada’s public prosecution service said in 2019 that payments were directed to Saadi Gadhafi, Muammar’s son, in exchange for him using his influence to secure construction contracts for the firm.

The Department for Transport said it is committed to delivering value for money for taxpayers and contracts are awarded based on transparent and fair processes.

The Conservative Party declined to comment. Mark Harper has been transport secretary since October 2022.

AtkinsRéalis has said it has cleaned house since 2012 and changed its ways.

The spokesman added: “AtkinsRéalis has been providing technical advice on fares and ticketing to the Department for Transport since 2020. This specialist advice has been used to support the development of fares strategies for the UK passenger rail network, including the expansion of ‘Pay as You Go’ ticketing, fares simplification and reform and ticketing and retail strategies.”