A Canadian prosecutor is demanding to see proof that a former hospital chief and spy watchdog is really dead before she drops charges that he accepted over $11 million in bribes.
Arthur Porter, the former head of the McGill University Health Centre, died of lung cancer while awaiting extradition in a Panamanian hospital on Tuesday, according to his wife and associates.
Porter was charged in February, 2013, with taking bribes to influence his decision on a $1.3-billion building contract for a hospital in Montreal. The contract went to a consortium led by SNC-Lavalin, one of the main players in Quebec's massive corruption scandal, which saw officials taking millions in kickbacks or political donations from engineering firms in exchange for special treatment on public contracts.
Porter and an associate allegedly split $22.5 million, paid out of a shell company based in the Bahamas and set up by Porter that billed SNC-Lavalin for no actual work. Testifying before the Charbonneau Commission, a police investigator called the case "the biggest corruption fraud in the history of Canada."
This week, while Porter was awaiting extradition in a Panamanian hospital, his biographer reported that he had died of lung cancer. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation contacted his wife and a long-time friend, both of whom confirmed that he had died on Tuesday. But those reports were not enough to convince the prosecution.
Crown prosecutor Marie-Hélène Giroux told VICE News that she will not be dropping charges against Porter until she has "official confirmation that he's dead." She did not specify exactly what would satisfy her, but hinted that a death certificate signed by a doctor would be sufficient.
Thursday, Radio-Canada reported that Giroux had asked police to do what's necessary to look into the case, including by flying to Panama. She declined to confirm that when contacted by VICE News, but later in the day reports emerged that Quebec's anti-corruption unit would be sending two investigators to the Central American nation to confirm the death.
"We have received no official confirmation of the death of Arthur Porter from Panamanian authorities," the unit said in a statement to the CBC. "We have also not received the evidence required to validate the authenticity of a body."
Born in Sierra Leone and a Canadian-American dual citizen, Porter also headed the Detroit Medical Center from 1999 to 2003. While chief of McGill University, he also served on the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the body that oversees the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the country's spy agency. He was appointed to that position by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and automatically became a member of the Queen's Privy Council, the prestigious body that, theoretically, advises Elizabeth II in her role as Queen of Canada.
Last September, Porter told Maclean's Magazine he hoped Parliament would lower the flag to half-mast when he died, as is custom for privy councilors. "I hope they do. What I do know is I continue to be treated as if I committed a crime and been found guilty — and have not. So I expect they should," he said. However, according to the Globe and Mail, the prime minister himself suspended the protocol to lower the flag in this instance.
Porter's family released a statement to CBC News saying that the negative publicity around his fraud allegations was detracting from the memory of his illustrious career as a doctor, public servant and hospital administrator.
"Whilst the media report the news of Arthur's death with stories of alleged crime and corruption our family mourns the loss of a dearly loved husband, father and friend," the family wrote.
Follow Arthur White on Twitter: @jjjarthur