By Ross Marowits
THE CANADIAN PRESS
MONTREAL _ SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. has moved further from its troubled past by settling two class action lawsuits worth a total of $110 million over allegations of misleading investors about its activities in Libya.
The company said it will contribute $88 million to the settlement of the cases in Ontario and Quebec. The rest will come from its insurance, said Michael Robb of Siskinds LLP, the lead lawyer of the claim. The agreement is subject to court approval.
The settlement amount is far from the $1.25 billion initially claimed by investors who bought SNC-Lavalin shares before they plunged in 2012 after the company announced an investigation into millions in undocumented payments and said its 2011 earnings would be less than expected.
“The reason $110 (million) is the number in the settlement is that having gone through litigating the case vigorously for six years and gone through a lot of evidence and procedure, that’s the amount the parties negotiated as a fair and reasonable compromise of this case,” Robb said in an interview from London, Ont.
The net amount to be distributed will be calculated after legal fees are deducted, which Robb said would be “significantly less than half” the total settlement.
The court will determine the appropriate amount and set up a distribution procedure at hearings expected to take place this fall in Ontario and Quebec.
The proceeds will be distributed to investors from anywhere in the world who provide proof that they purchased SNC-Lavalin shares between November 2009 and February 2012.
The lawsuits were among the consequences of alleged payments made by SNC-Lavalin to members, associates and agents of the regime of late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi to secure contracts for infrastructure projects in Libya.
The company said it has since initiated a series of significant changes and enhancements to reinforce its ethics and compliance procedures.
“The class action lawsuit settlement is another step in resolving our legacy issues and de-risking the future of SNC-Lavalin,” the Montreal-based firm said in a news release.
SNC-Lavalin also signed an administrative agreement under the federal government’s new Integrity Regime in 2015, reached an agreement with the Commissioner of Canada Elections and with the Ordre des ingenieurs du Quebec in 2016, and reached a settlement with Quebec’s Voluntary Reimbursement Program in 2017.
Industry analysts called the settlement a positive outcome for the company.
Yuri Lynk of Canaccord Genuity said the settlement amount is “manageable” given that the company had $647 million of cash on hand at the end of March.
“We believe, based on our conversations with investors, that the expectation for a settlement was between $150 million and $250 million,” he wrote in a report.
“This is the penultimate step towards putting the legacy issues behind the company and removes yet another overhang.”
Lynk said the final step will be the settling of outstanding federal charges against the company through a deferred prosecution agreement. He pegged that settlement will likely cost around $300 million.
Derek Spronck of RBC Capital Markets added that momentum is building for everything to come together for SNC this year.
“The class action lawsuits are being settled, the federal government is moving ahead with a DPA regime, the Champlain Bridge is tracking to targets, and the company has won several multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects.”