Ex-CSIS Informant, Construction Boss Roland Eid to Learn Fate After Year-Long Fraud Trial
Sometime after 11 a.m. Monday, Superior Court Justice Timothy Ray will give us his take on Roland Eid — the building tradesman charged four years ago with fraud in connection with his company ICI Construction. The proceeding before Ray began little more than a year ago, wrapping up in early March. Ray has been dissecting a small mountain of evidence and testimony ever since.
The case, nearly a decade in the making, has been avidly followed in parts of Ottawa’s business community — not least because Eid belongs to a prominent family of Lebanese immigrants. His oldest brother, Jean, is a partner with the upscale hair design salon, Rinaldo’s. Eid Eid, an executive with Nova Software, previously served as chief technology officer at Corel Corp., the graphics software company founded by Michael Cowpland.
Roland channelled his entrepreneurial instincts in a different direction.
The youngest of nine siblings, Roland worked from the ground up at various local construction firms. A decade ago he launched ICI Construction, which won millions of dollars in contracts courtesy of the RCMP and Foreign Affairs.
ICI was petitioned into bankruptcy early in 2008, just weeks after Eid and his family left Ottawa for Lebanon under mysterious circumstances. Eid had arranged late in 2007 to transfer $1.7 million from his company to a personal account in Beirut. He claimed he had $300,000 in additional commitments from a private investor in Ottawa.
Defence counsel Richard Addelman argued at trial that this money was to have financed a housing project in Syria, which effectively controlled large swaths of Lebanon. Addelman said Eid spent much time and effort organizing Canadian and other suppliers in preparation for the work. Financing was the key: Eid claimed that once the Syrians saw $2 million in his Lebanese bank account, they would match it.
Eid’s defence is that he had intended to return $2 million to ICI. But the Syrians did not produce the money. Eid also maintained — in an interview conducted before the trial began — that his Beirut bank temporarily froze the money that had been transferred from Ottawa.
When the government of Canada — citing lack of proper paperwork — stopped a progress payment to ICI over the Christmas holidays it was enough to push the firm to the edge of insolvency. When a major creditor petitioned for bankruptcy in January, this left dozens of suppliers and other creditors on the hook for work already completed.
Crown prosecutor Moray Welch argued at trial that the Syrian project was little more than a ruse to allow Eid to transfer ICI’s money and start a new life in Lebanon. Although the money had been shifted from Eid’s own firm, most of it was committed to paying for materiel and wages on ICI’s ongoing projects.
Welch also maintained that Eid falsely claimed to have sold ICI to his controller, Sebastien Dagenais, in order to justify keeping the $1.7 million.
The RCMP conducted an initial investigation but put things on hold when it became apparent Eid was not keen to return to Ottawa. Canada does not have an extradition treaty with Lebanon. Then, to the surprise of nearly everyone, the Eids returned in 2012 equipped with emergency passports issued in Lebanon.
Eid said he was on the run from Hezbollah, the Shia Muslim group.
Starting in the late 1990s, Eid had been informing the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service about the activities of certain members of the Lebanese community here and abroad.
We know he was an informant because CSIS acknowledged his role in a reply to one of his access-to-information requests. Eid last year launched a $24-million civil suit against the RCMP and CSIS, alleging that these government agencies “created the circumstances that led to the loss of ICI.” The suit does not spell out how this might have been done.
But an exhibit in the civil action includes a letter Eid penned to former prime minister Stephen Harper that cites a potential motive. Eid wrote that he refused to undertake “an illegal and very dangerous assignment for CSIS and its allies in September 2007.” He claimed the bankruptcy of ICI was retribution for his refusal.
Nevertheless, Eid’s history as a CSIS informant played next to no role during the year-long proceeding before Judge Ray. Welch and Addelman concentrated almost entirely on the money flow in question.
The trial featured witnesses from several firms specializing in high-risk finance, insurance and other aspects of construction activity. Two company executives — Sebastien Dagenais and Mounir Ghadban — also added perspective. The day-to-day accounts of ICI were presented in great detail.
Nevertheless, there were important omissions. For instance, the activities of ICI’s main financier, Acorn Partners, were handled by an executive who could not be located. No witnesses were called from Lebanon. Nor did Eid take the stand.
Judge Ray made do with the evidence before him. His conclusions, and verdict, will be of great interest to many in the capital region’s business, construction and intelligence communities.