Ottawa - Canada’s ethics watchdog rapped Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday, concluding in the lead-up to October elections that he broke rules by arm-twisting his attorney general to settle a criminal case against engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

The scandal, revealed earlier this year, tarnished the prime minister’s golden boy image, and cost two ministers and two senior officials their jobs, while support plunged for his Liberals before they clawed back some ground. Independent parliamentary ethics commissioner Mario Dion said Trudeau and his officials had wrongly sought to “exert influence over the attorney general in her decision whether to intervene in a matter relating to a criminal prosecution.” It marks the second time that Trudeau has been found in breach of Canada’s ethics laws, after being rebuked in 2017 for accepting a paid family vacation on the private island in the Bahamas of the Aga Khan, a business magnate and spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims. Trudeau must pay a small fine of up to Can$500 (US$375) for contravening Canada’s conflict of interest act, but with only two months before national elections the political costs could be much steeper.

SNC-Lavalin, one of the world’s major engineering firms, was charged in 2015 with allegedly paying Can$47 million in bribes between 2001 and 2011 to secure contracts in Libya during the rule of former strongman Moamer Kadhafi, and of defrauding the Libyan government of Can$130 million.

The charges relate to the world’s largest irrigation scheme -- the Great Man Made River Project -- to provide fresh water to the cities of Tripoli, Benghazi and Sirte.