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MUHC: Raids and fiscal scandals hurt superhospital’s image

View of the Glen site in Montreal. (Photo courtesy of the MUHC)

View of the Glen site in Montreal. (Photo courtesy of the MUHC)

Construction is heading into final stages for what is to be the ne plus ultra of 21st-century health-care and research facilities—Montreal’s two megahospitals.

However, troubling questions remain about alleged financial irregularities involving building the $1.34-billion Glen Yards facility, management of the McGill University Hospital Centre and the activities of its former chief executive, Dr. Arthur Porter.

Porter, appointed by McGill, served three years as CEO and resigned in November 2011. He also quit as chairman of Canada’s security and Intelligence Review Committee following reports he had sent $200,000 of his own money to a controversial former arms dealer for an infrastructure deal in his native Sierra Leone that never materialized. An arrest warrant was issued February 27 for Porter, who divides his time between the Bahamas and Sierra Leone.

On Sept. 18, Sûreté du Québec investigators raided MUHC headquarters, seizing documents related to Porter and the awarding of construction contracts.

SNC-Lavalin, one of two firms building the Glen campus, has refused comment on a report it made $22 million in secret payments to win its contract.

Pierre Duhaime, the former SNC chief executive officer, has pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud, conspiracy and use of forged documents in an alleged scheme to defraud the MUHC in its plans to build the superhospital.

Riadh Ben-Aïssa, who was fired last year as SNC vice-president in charge of construction and who was reported to have “led” the company’s bid to land the contract, has been charged with fraud and use of a counterfeit document. He was last reported in a Swiss jail in connection with a criminal investigation into alleged corrupt payments in North Africa. The charges have not been proved in court.

McGill University is suing Porter for more than $287,000 plus interest the university says he owes, as well as $30,130 the university says was an overpayment in his salary as a professor, which he received in addition to his role in piloting the MUHC in its development phase. Porter has promised to repay the loan and is no longer a McGill professor.

Search warrants have been issued into alleged fraud by the MUHC’s former director of human resources, Stella Lopreste, totaling $1.6 million, Radio Canada has reported.

During the decade until April 2010 that she worked at the hospital, Lopreste is alleged to have falsified bills to claim such personal expenses as luxury clothes, restaurant meals and flower deliveries, books, cellphones and a computer, and creating false business meetings to claim personal travel expenses. No charges have been laid against her.

Normand Rinfret, who succeeded Porter as MUHC chief executive, conceded in December that scrutiny by the province’s anti-corruption squad is damaging the project’s image in the community.

“It creates a turbulence, which creates a little bit of a discomfort level,” he said in December, even as he sought to underline the positive—“a golden opportunity” for Montreal.

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