With a Quebec judge’s ruling May 29 that SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. must stand trial on corporate bribery charges linked to actions by ex-executives prior to 2011, industry observers are watching how the Montreal design-build firm responds to calls for dramatic action to shore up results.

Its stock, down by half since year-end, fell 3.2% on the Toronto exchange after the decision.

SNC-Lavalin needs to adopt a “low-risk, high margin fee-for- service business model” focused on engineering.

– Yuri Lynk, Analyst, Canaccord Genuity

SNC-Lavalin said it will “vigorously defend” itself in court, beginning on June 7.

Maxim Sytchev, industry analyst at National Bank Financial, predicts years of protracted litigation that could be an ongoing competitive drag.

SNC-Lavalin CEO Neil Bruce again emphasized that the charges “relate to alleged wrongdoings that took place seven to 20 years ago … and we are pursuing those who committed [them].”

The government declined to negotiate with the firm a deferred prosecution agreement, in what grew into a major political controversy earlier this year.

Yuri Lynk, an analyst at Canaccord Genuity, says SNC-Lavalin could potentially double its stock value, to $54 from its current price in the $23-per-share range, by selling its construction unit and adopting a “low risk, high-margin fee-for-service business model” focused on engineering services and digital solutions.

He says unpredictability of current operations is a greater risk than the legal overhang.

SNC-Lavalin also seeks to tap its valuable assets, which media reports say could include selling its U.K.-based Atkins engineering unit, purchased in 2017 for about $2.7 billion. The firm says Atkins has grown in value.

SNC-Lavalin also is set to move forward on the sale of a 10% share of its Highway 407 toll road. In May, it canceled the $2.4-billion sale, announced in April to an Ontario pension fund.

A June 21 court hearing will settle a dispute among potential bidders.