PANAMA CITY, PANAMA – Arthur Porter (pictured), the former head of Montreal’s McGill University Health Centre who was accused in a $22.5-million kickback scheme, has died in a Panama City hospital following a battle with cancer. He was 59.
Pamela Porter, his wife, confirmed the death to CBC News, saying two of Arthur’s four daughters will be leaving soon for Panama to retrieve his body.
Dr. Karol Sikora, a U.K. cancer specialist and longtime friend of Arthur Porter, said Porter died of metastatic lung cancer on June 30. Porter, a cancer specialist, had been diagnosed with the disease in January of 2013.
After he was arrested on an international warrant in Panama City in May 2013, he treated himself with experimental drugs while in La Joya prison and fighting extradition to Canada. In recent weeks, he was moved to Santo Tomas Oncology Hospital for diagnostic work.
Jean-Pascal Boucher, spokesman for the Crown prosecutor’s office in Montreal, said the office is awaiting official confirmation of his death, at which point Porter’s file will be closed.
Boucher would not say what effect Porter’s death could have on the case against his co-accused in the alleged kickback scheme.
Journalist Jeff Todd, Porter’s biographer, said he had a sense the accused doctor wouldn’t make it back to Canada to face charges.
Todd, who spent many hours talking to Porter about the accusations against him, said we’ll likely never know the truth. “It was a big story. And I think it has a long way to go,” he said. “I guess some of it may die with him. He took a lot probably to his grave.”
Todd called Porter’s death “stranger than fiction” because of his highly publicized standoff with the Canadian authorities for extradition. “It’s a poignant end, for sure,’’ he said. “I don’t know how you take it, but it’s definitely poignant.”
Porter, originally from Sierra Leone, had a distinguished career after earning degrees at Cambridge University, and becoming an oncology specialist. He came to Canada in the 1980s, working in Edmonton and London, Ont., before moving on to the Detroit Medical Center in 1991, becoming its CEO eight years later.
In 2004, he became head of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), and in 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper named him to the security intelligence review committee, which he later chaired before resigning in December 2011.
Harper’s office declined on Wednesday to comment on Porter’s death.
In 2011, Porter left his job at the MUHC, which under his leadership was finally building a $1.4-billion mega-hospital. Within a year, news broke that $22.5 million in alleged kickbacks had been paid by the winning contractor, SNC-Lavalin.
Police have alleged that Porter received $11.25 million in secret commissions for rigging the hospital contract in SNC-Lavalin’s favour. Porter and seven others were accused of the fraud.
By this time, Porter was living in the Bahamas and expanding his own cancer clinics in the Caribbean, while treating himself with chemotherapy. He was in transit to cancer clinics in the Caribbean when he was arrested in Panama City on May 27, 2013.
He also leaves behind daughters Gemma, Fiona, Adina and Charlotte.