Tuesday 28 February 2012

SNC-Lavalin is good for BMO’s business, Cynthia Vanier is not

Former consultant to SNC-Lavalin Cynthia Vanier is about to have all of her banking services – including credit cards – cut off by the Bank of Montreal (BMO). The termination is expected to take place on March 13.

Ms. Vanier is now in a prison in Chetumal, Mexico. She has been charged with organized crime, document forgery, and human smuggling, in relation to an alleged plot to bring fallen Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi's third son, Saadi Kadhafi, 38, to Mexico.

La politica es la politica first heard of the intention by BMO to deny Ms. Vanier all financial services from her parents, John and Betty MacDonald, who were interviewed on-site at Lake Chapala in Mexico. The family is concerned that, without financial resources, life in prison, as well as the costs associated with mounting a defense, would be untenable.

Betty and John MacDonald near Lake Chapala, Mexico

Correspondence from La politica es la politica with Ms. Vanier’s lawyer, Paul Copeland, as well as with Lorraine Howard, Senior Counsel at BMO, and with Ralph Marranca, Director, Media and Public Relations at BMO Financial Group, has resulted in only a partial explanation as to why Ms. Vanier is to be denied service.

Responding to a direct query from Mr. Copeland, Ms. Howard was able to confirm that a search warrant was “not applicable” and that BMO had not been approached by Canada's Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET). As well, none of Ms. Vanier’s banking information was supplied to Canadian or Mexican authorities.

According to Ms. Howard, BMO’s decision was made based on “a review of the public information available regarding the activities of Cynthia Vanier/Vanier Consulting Ltd. and account activity.” As a result, “the account profile was no longer operating within Bank of Montreal’s risk tolerance as risk issues were raised in excess of a level acceptable to Bank of Montreal.”

Mr. Copeland has expressed concern that, by relying on “public information”, the BMO is damning Ms. Vanier in absentia and as a result of information gained from dubious sources.  

For example, statements made by Gary Peters, who had provided security for Ms. Vanier when she worked as a mediator in indigenous communities, as well as during her July, 2011, “fact-finding” mission to Libya, are contradictory.

Mr. Peters, who claims he drove Saadi Kadhafi to the border with Niger, where Mr. Kadhafi now resides, has made a number of inconsistent statements to the media, to Mexican authorities, and to Mr. Copeland. Mr. Copeland has had no success in getting Mr. Peters to sign a statutory declaration.

It is La politica es la politica’s understanding that most of Ms. Vanier’s income in 2011 flowed from contracts signed with SNC-Lavalin – something that BMO would have full visibility into.  

SNC-Lavalin is also a high-profile BMO customer, and is nearing the end of a multi-million dollar, five year facility management services contract for BMO’s Canadian retail branch network.

As well, SNC-Lavalin is now conducting an internal investigation into $35 million in undocumented payments tied to its construction business.

 La politica es la politica put the following questions to both Ms. Howard and Mr. Marranca at BMO:

  • Does BMO apply the same risk tolerance policies to all its customers, personal and corporate, no matter their size?

  • Given that a) the “public information” presently available on SNC-Lavalin’s activities in North Africa is equally if not more damning than Ms. Vanier’s alleged wrongdoings, and b) SNC-Lavalin has suspended its high-risk operations in Libya, at a potential cost of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, have any banking operations been suspended between SNC-Lavalin and BMO as a result of this increased risk profile?

  • Has there been any communication between employees of SNC-Lavalin and employees of BMO with regard to Cynthia Vanier?

Mr. Marranca promptly responded, saying –

“We won't be offering a comment.  We have a policy not to discuss our customers' business or our relationships with our customers.”

But that is not entirely true. The bank and SNC-Lavalin were very happy to discuss their facility management services contract at the time of signing.

And when it comes to how BMO treats unconvicted Canadians in jail in Mexico, whom they happily serviced when the money was flowing from contracts with SNC-Lavalin, and SNC-Lavalin itself, which has over $10 billion in revenue, but is now embroiled in multiple scandals, corporate “policies” seem to be somewhat fluid.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

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Josefina Vázquez Mota will win Mexico’s presidency

On February 5, 2012, Josefina Vázquez Mota was selected by Mexico’s centre-right National Action Party (PAN) to be that party’s candidate in the July 1 election for the Mexican presidency. There was a lot of hoopla. Vázquez received international press attention as the first female candidate from a major political party to contest the top office.

Vázquez is now running for the ruling party, which broke the seventy-year stranglehold held by the Institutional revolutionary Party (PRI) back in 2000 when the PAN’s Vicente Fox took office. Felipe Calderón then kept the PAN in power when he won in 2006.

Now, in the completely unscientific polling that La politica es la politica is known for, which amounts to a canvassing of Twitter feeds from Mexican pundits, and conversation over Minerva beer with fellow journalists, we can report back with this unstartling finding: other that diehard PANistas, no-one believes that Vázquez is going to win this election.

Here’s why they’re wrong.

The war fatigue is waning

The number one reason the odds are stacked against Vázquez is the present government’s war on drugs. This has put her down double digits in the polls against the PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto. Worse, Vázquez has said she will continue the campaign that has, to date, counted over 50,000 lives lost. As La politica es la politica has said before, this is Mexico’s Vietnam, but worse. The numbers are as high as in Vietnam, yet these are all domestic, civilian dead, and in a country with half the population that the United States had during the Vietnam War. The trauma is profound. Many, many innocent people have lost their lives. It is not morally defensible to say that “most of the deaths are gang or cartel members.” The majority of those who have lost their lives are among the “ni-nis” – those with no work or education – and many others have been literally kidnapped into service. For every dead young person an entire network of friends and families has been left broken-hearted. A bereft society can only take so much.

There is some positive news: violence is stabilizing in some areas, and easing in others.

Murders in Ciudad Juarez are at about half the levels of record-setting 2010, when more than 3,000 people died. The first six weeks of 2012 looked even better, indicating a 57% drop in homicides compared to the same period in 2011. And, though the militarization of the drug war has clearly been implicated in increased violence, the recent “Secure Veracruz” initiatives, which involved the use of Mexican Marines, seems to have reduced violence there, too. The richest man in the world, Mexican telecom magnate Carlos Slim, is coming to the rescue of Acapulco, which now has the dubious distinction of being the fourth most violent city on the world (five of the top ten are in Mexico).

This is not all necessarily good news, but there is less bad news these days. The cartels, with the notable exception of the Sinaloa Cartel run by the notorious Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzman, have been weakened. (Perhaps a “June surprise” capture of El Chapo will boost the PAN’s election chances further). And, overall, Mexicans are now less preoccupied with violence than they were in 2011.

On the security front Vázquez has a strong argument against her main opponent, Peña Nieto of the PRI – a message also being pushed heavily by president Calderón, a man now concerned with his own legacy – which is simply this: “What do you propose?” So far, not much. The electorate, therefore, can’t be sure of a better outcome with regard to public security with the PRI at the helm. And Andrés Manuel López Obrador, leader of the left-of-centre Democratic Revolution (PRD), is also somewhat fuzzy. López Obrador wants to pull out of security agreements with the United States and rebuild an autonomous security apparatus. That has its appeal, but hasn’t gained strong public support as of yet.

(For a detailed look at security policies, have a look at: Mexico presidential candidates play it safe with security plans.)

Josefina fits the profile of a successful candidate

Over the past century successful female political candidates have benefitted from three factors: one, underestimation by their opponents until it is too late; two, being tougher, more conservative and, frankly, often smarter and more competent than their male opponents; and three, being connected to powerful men. The third has been a clear advantage to politicians such as Cristina Elisabet Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina, Corazon Aquino of the Philippines, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Hillary Clinton of the United States, and Indira Gandhi of India. These intelligent and competent individuals have all benefitted from being the daughters or wives of powerful politicians.

To not have that third advantage, then, might require one to have a surplus of the previous two. Good examples: Golda Meir of Israel and Britain’s Margaret Thatcher. Both their parents ran grocery stores. (Vázquez also comes from a conservative, middle class business background). They were completely outside elitist circles, and capable of strong action: Thatcher shut down the coal strikers and sent warships to the Falklands; and Golda Meir initiated “Operation Wrath of God”, giving authorization to the Mossad (Israeli secret service) to track down and kill – no matter where in the world they were – those responsible for murdering eleven Israelis athletes at the Summer Olympics in Munich in 1972.

 She might have what it takes

These individuals are not best understood as “female politicians”; instead, they are politicians. They understand power, and how to use it. They won’t argue against what works. So, while Vázquez may comment on male dominance in Mexican culture, and how that makes her job tougher, she won’t complain when the press refer to her as “Josefina”, as they commonly do, and as La politica es la politica did in the heading for this section. Surely, this can be seen as derogatory and belittling to a female candidate, and an indication of gender bias? Perhaps. But just as surely, it humanizes her with the voters, which is desirable. By comparison, the present president, whose full name is Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa, is referred to by the bland acronyms “FCH”, and the PRD candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is referred to as “AMLO”. (For some reason, Kirchner also gets to be called “CFK”). The nicknames for Peña Nieto are best left unprinted.

(For a more in depth look at why La politica es la politica is concerned about a Peña Nieto presidency, see: Pretty-boy Peña Nieto would be a disaster for Mexico.)

The likeable Peña Nieto

It is maxim of sorts that the parents are a worse judge of a son-in-law than are the bride-to-be’s siblings. The kids know the score. In the Mexican analogy, much of country’s ruling classes act as paternalistic arbiters of power. They like Peña Nieto because he is handsome. He is well behaved. He does what he is told to do – which is mostly nothing. This allows business as usual to proceed. He is not well spoken, in that his speech is unintelligent; but he is well spoken, in that his speech is polite. It works at garden parties.

However, when the heat is on – and there are so many examples of this they are tiresome to recount – Peña Nieto comes across as a complete fool. And as a regular citizen who cares about your country, you are not going to want her to marry such a lightweight. In Mexico, if you flick on Televisa (something I try to avoid) you can sometimes find coverage of Peña Nieto that is akin to that afforded to Ricky Martin, whom Peña Nieto disturbingly resembles. Televisa is the second largest media conglomerate in Latin America, and famous for its telenovelas (soap operas). Sadly, Peña Nieto with his jet-boy hair and slick suits is, quite literally, tailor-made for such an audience. He even announced his romantic connection to his now second wife, who is a telenovela actress, on the TV Azteca show Shalalá.

In the old days of the dedazo – the non-democratic internal selection,  or ”finger tap”, of a PRI candidate through backroom politics – the chosen PRI operative would be gifted the presidency of Mexico. Now, things are a little more complicated, and how a party picks its leader is, in many ways, an indication of their viability to run a federal campaign (for our Canadian readers, look at the miserable results of the dedazo selection of Liberal Party candidate Michael  Ignatieff in the last federal campaign).

It’s not really anyone’s business how a political party selects its leader – they are subject to their own rules and policies – but by necessity the process will determine the outcome, and can be seen as a reflection of party values, which the people are then free to judge.  And once that candidate steps out onto the main stage, he or she is supposed to compete in the hard-hitting, wide-open realm of electoral campaigning. If the selection process is tough, as was the PAN’s, then the candidate will be tough. 

 President Peña Nieto? For real?

The PRI, by contrast, is inept at this. The PRI simply opened a clear channel to Peña Nieto’s nomination, with the only other viable PRI candidate, Senator Manlio Fabio Beltrones, handed his marching orders from the PRI establishment. That’s how the PRI does things.  The party has probably only won one election for the presidency of Mexico, and that was in 1994, when Ernesto Zedillo was victorious. In 1988, Carlos Salinas de Gortari “won” for the PRI with 50.7% of the vote, though even former president Miguel de la Madrid has acknowledged that the election was rigged, and that the ballots were later burned to remove evidence. For all elections before that, the fix was in: the elections were as corrupt as any held in the Soviet Union.

We would be remiss if we did not say that, with Calderón at the helm, the PAN “won” the 2006 federal election over the PRD’s López Obrador by a scant 0.56 percentage points. Let’s be clear, in Mexico no one legitimately wins an election by half a percentage point. However, parties that are threatening to the status quo, like the PRD, can easily be robbed by that margin.

Navigating a corrupt system

It is important to realize that the PAN is not a clean political party. It cut its teeth in gubernatorial politics; it knows how the game is played.

In very simple terms and for most practical purposes, in Mexico corruption rises from the ground up. It is not, for the most part, directed from the top down. Consequently, presidential contenders, as well as presidents themselves, are constantly responding to and negotiating with a corrupt system, no matter how clean they may be as individuals. In effect, power can only be brokered, and held, via a kind of “operational acknowledgement” of this reality. Even the most honest Mexican politician has to navigate these waters, and is inevitably in some way “corrupted” by this reality. Which is to say, in Mexico you can’t just get rid of a Richard Nixon, change a few laws, and all will better. If that were true, everything would have be fine after the PRI’s Carlos Salinas de Gortari, one of the sketchiest presidents ever to wear the sash, ran away to Ireland.

 No, in Mexico it is how you engage with corruption that counts.

Very few observers in Mexico have a clearer view of this reality than John Ackerman, a well-respected political analyst at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). When the scandal broke recently that U.S. court documents revealed that Mexico’s ultra-violent Los Zetas cartels had paid $4.5 million in bribes to buy protection and political favours in Tamaulipas, a state run by the PRI, with present and former governors directly implicated, Mr. Ackerman had a sobering quote:

"This is not a witch hunt, this is the reality: governors and government officials in this country are involved with drug dealers..They are not clean, neither those from PRI nor the PAN."

But why would the PAN not have gone after the PRI governors earlier? Surely there would have been political gain? The reason the government did not initiate probes into the governors sooner, argues Ackerman, is that the PAN needed opposition support in Congress due to its lack of a majority.

(For a more detailed look at the situation with the PRI in Tamaulipas, see: Peña Nieto and his dirty war.)

What does this have to do with Vázquez? It is simply an example of how as a political organization the PAN is more skilled at navigating its way through a corrupt system. The PAN operatives are more aggressive. As a group, they have better tactical skills, and more coherently as an organization than either the PRI or the PRD.

For example, President Calderón felt that Ernesto J. Cordero, his Secretary of Finance, would have been a better presidential candidate for the PAN, because he had business smarts. But Ms. Vázquez won the leadership primary with 55% of the vote. The party came through that tough leadership campaign somewhat a bruised, but still united, and better for it, with Calderón, Cordero, and Santiago Creel (the other leadership candidate) swallowing some pride and showing an impressive amount of party solidarity in declaring their support for Vázquez.

Vázquez then got a minor bump in the polls, which was to be expected. But she has made incremental gains recently, too, and this may very well continue. She is now 16 points behind Peña Nieto, a gap that most people see as unbridgeable, because, after all, this is Mexico – what on earth could happen in four months? Won’t things be exactly the same?

But this past decade has seen big changes in Mexico. Now, a citizen, even a poor one, might actually expect his or her vote to count. Politically, it is a much more engaged and lively culture than it was ten years ago.   Though cynicism is high, with a sluggish economy and legislative gridlock, Vázquez could capture the public’s heart. She is not unduly charismatic, but she is likeable, and highly competent, with experience both in the legislative trenches and at the cabinet table. What happens if she narrows the gap from double digits to single digits? How does the PRI and its leader Peña Nieto respond?

The short answer: not very well. Peña Nieto has been working for the PRI since his mid-twenties, and comes from a family of politicians. He is good cover for the cacique structure of the PRI. He is an agreeable and charismatic person, and had early success as a bureaucrat due to his powers of persuasion. He has run for political office once before, to be Governor of the State of Mexico, which he won in 2005. The initial campaign for the PRI nomination for that race was difficult, in that it required tenacity and resolve. But the gubernatorial election itself was relatively easy. With the PRI machine behind him, Peña Nieto picked up 49% of the vote. However, during this presidential campaign the attacks against him, and particularly the political party he represents, will be furious. As Vázquez continues to rise in the polls – and she will – Peña Nieto will try and hit back via surrogates, because he needs to hold on to his 47% “positive opinion” rating. He’ll attempt to stay above it all, but it won’t work. The PRI campaign has been on a glide path for moths. They are simply not prepared to take their campaign off autopilot, and to engage a serious challenger.

 And let’s not forget, Vázquez won the PAN nomination, even though she was not Calderón’s favourite, for a very good reason: she is an excellent campaigner. When she connects, she is good. Right now 35% of Mexicans have a positive opinion of her, up from only 23% in November. Over the next five months that number will improve as she capitalizes on opportunities to communicate with Mexican people. And as they get to know her, they’ll like what they see. Sadly for him, the same cannot be said for Peña Nieto.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

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Sunday 26 February 2012

How safe are tourists in Mexico?

The common advice for travellers to Mexico is that resorts are safe. We know that that is overwhelmingly true, yet the recent bus-jacking and robbery of 22 cruisers visiting Puerto Vallarta, as well as the violent attack on Sheila Nabb in Mazatlan, have raised some concerns.

There are older stories, too.  In 2006 there was the case of the murder of the Canadian couple Dominic and Nancy Ianiero, who were found with their throats slashed in their room at a five-star resort near Playa del Carmen. And there is also the Beresford-Redman case, in which the reality TV producer has been charged by Mexican authorities with the 2010 murder of his wife at the Moon Palace Resort in Cancun.

In the Ianiero and the Beresford-Redman cases, at different phases in the respective investigations, there has been speculation that the murders might have been pre-meditated with the intention of committing the crimes in Mexico, because investigative and judicial processes are weaker there, and because non-Mexicans would be inclined to assume the crimes were due to a higher degree of lawlessness in Mexico.

To get a sense of the overall security situation at resort hotels in Mexico, La politica es la politica put some questions to Walter McKay, a Mexico City-based security consultant. Mr. McKay provides a range of security consultant services within Mexico, including to the hotel industry.

(It should be noted that La politica es la politica has had communication with Mr. McKay in the past, and respects his judgment as being fact-based and in no way alarmist.)

La politica es la politica: How good are resort hotels in Mexico at both preventing crime and at assisting authorities in solving crimes?

Walter Mckay: Hotels are good at preventing crime and poor at assisting investigations to solve crimes. To understand why, one needs to understand the two separate paradigms involved: economic security and personal security. Hotels are more concerned with the former while the tourist assumes it is the latter (often the two over lap, i.e., measures that the hotel takes to ensure the economic security of its interests also serve to protect the interests of the tourist vis-a-vis personal security, but this does have gaps, as illustrated by your examples). For instance, all inclusive resorts require colored wristbands for each guest as a means of controlling who has access to the "free" food and drink and other amenities rather than for the safety and security of the guest (even though the control of access to the facilities serves this same purpose). Hotel security are trained in limiting access to the hotel and in meeting the quests needs rather than as investigators or crime scene technicians; thus, if a serious crime does occur, it is the hotel's interests that are of priority rather than the victim's needs.

LP: In the Beresford-Redman case a security guard at the luxury Moon Palace Resort in Cancun provided valuable evidence that he saw the couple arguing. However, in the Ianiero case a security guard has actually been implicated in the murder.  How valuable are security guards? In Mexico, is there not some risk that staff can be corrupted? Are there background checks?

WM: Security guards are not "valuable" at all and may have little to no formal training for the position. They are more there for protecting hotel interests rather than investigation...at most, to catch a criminal caught in the act and hold him/her for the police. Background checks are not done on the staff (for the most part). And corruption is rampant.

 Who are they working for?

LP: Also in the Beresford-Redman case, there is highly detailed information – down to the minute – on swipe-key access to the hotel room. Do most resorts in Mexico have this technology? Do you consider it valuable?

WM:  The card swipe technology is part and parcel of it being an electronic system that is controlled by the front desk (to activate and deactivate cards); thus, tracking would be easy. I would consider it valuable, but in light of the dismal investigative ability of Mexican police it is not used to its potential (98.5% of all crimes in Mexico are unsolved).

LP: At the Moon Palace Resort in Cancun, security guards check all cars that come and go. How important is monitoring automobile access? Are there better/worse ways to do it? Is there automated technology that can do this?

WM: Controlling car access is important as a security feature. Usually five star hotels all have cameras as well, so that the vehicles’ plates and the faces of the people exiting and entering are recorded. However, this is more a deterrent to crimes of opportunity (to dissuade them) rather than a strategy against criminals who want to target the hotel and/or its guests. The professional criminal will steal a car to commit the crime (which happens on a daily basis all over Mexico).

LP: In the Sheila Nabb case, video footage provided some assistance, but there was no camera in the elevator. Is this normal? What role does video surveillance play? There doesn’t seem to be any video surveillance to assist in the Beresford-Redman case.

WM: Cameras in elevators are hit and miss...as a "guesstimate", I would say 30% of five star hotels would have them (the hotel that Nabb stayed in was five star). Video surveillance is an investigative aid, not a deterrent (the UK is an excellent case study on this). And again, you need capable, competent investigators to follow up (which Mexico lacks). Finally, the footage is difficult to use, especially if it is grainy and/or the suspect does not look up at the camera etc.

LP: Beach access seems to be a significant problem. It appears to be how the assailant got access to the hotel in Mazatlan where Sheila Nabb was assaulted. Can you comment on how hotels can best address this?

WM: The man charged with the Nabb case most likely is NOT the one who committed the crime and thus we do not know how access was gained to the hotel or if it was not another guest, employee, or even her husband who did it...it is all speculation. However, the issue of limiting beach access as a measure to improve the security of the guests’ conflicts with the economic incentives of the hotels to ensure that the guests are happy and not bothered by such restrictive security. The wrist band tactic used by all inclusive hotels might work, but then you have to hire extra personnel to monitor the guests (cutting into profits).

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

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Friday 24 February 2012

The damning evidence against Bruce Beresford-Redman

The evidence presented to the Honorable Jacqueline Chooljian of California’s Central District Court to extradite Bruce Beresford-Redman to Mexico presents a damning tale.

(For a recent update see: No surprise that Bruce Beresford-Redman denied amparo. For a look at four foreigners imprisoned in Mexico, including Beresford-Redman, see: In Mexico, guilt by association is often enough. And for a look at security in resorts, see: How safe are tourists in Mexico?)

In effect, the court determined that Beresford-Redman, named at the time as a “Fugitive from the Government of Mexico”, was likely guilty of the murder of his wife Monica in a Cancun hotel room in April, 2010, stating outright that “probable cause exists to believe that Beresford-Redman committed the aggravated homicide of the victim.”

What some press outlets have presented as “alleged” were accepted as fact by the court. The text supporting the extradition request for the Los Angeles-based reality TV producer reads as a concise indictment of Beresford-Redman’ character, and also an indication of the dire straits his marriage was in.

For example:

“Beresford-Redman had an affair with a co-worker for several months in at least 2009. He lied to the victim about it for months. The victim learned of Beresford-Redman’s infidelity when she discovered text messages between Beresford-Redman and the co-worker. The couple quarrelled about the matter. The victim told Beresford-Redman to leave the couple’s home. Beresford-Redman moved out of the couple’s home and into his parents’ home. The victim denied Beresford-Redman access to his children and to his home. She liquidated his money. She told his daughter’s school that he was abusive and unfit and should not be allowed to pick up his daughter. The victim changed the locks on the house and took the couple’s children to Hawaii without Beresford-Redman. She planned to get a divorce. Beresford-Redman was devastated about not being able to see his children and the possibility that he might have to prove that he was not abusive in a possible future custody battle. Upon his family’s return from Hawaii, Beresford Redman apologized.”

Normally a “Certification of Extraditability and Order of Commitment” could be expected to be a pretty dry read, but Judge Chooljian clearly constructed the document in such a way as to form a convincing argument for Beresford-Redman’s guilt.

Part of the set-up is to indicate that the marital problems, and conflict, were on the increase:

“The couple decided to take a family trip to Mexico in early April 2010. The night before the family departed for Mexico, Beresford-Redman and the victim had a big fight concerning Beresford-Redman’s affair. The couple had previously had many loud arguments.”

The court document is heavily footnoted, and includes evidence from the victim’s sister, Jeanne Burgos, whom the court acknowledged was biased against Beresford-Redman. The reason for such allowance was because it was consistent with other evidence. Her statements were “largely cumulative of other evidence presented to the Court and are not themselves material to the Court’s probable cause determination”.

Monica Beresford-Redman

Nonetheless, Burgos’ testimony was included in the final document. She claimed:

“The victim confronted Beresford Redman about his infidelity, which he acknowledged. The victim then withdrew assets from their joint bank account and moved them to a new account, over which she had sole control. When the victim discovered that Beresford-Redman still had contact with the woman with whom he had been having an affair, the victim demanded a divorce. The victim told Beresford-Redman that, if he agreed to the divorce, she would give him half the money she had transferred to the new account, but that if he did not agree to the divorce, she would keep all the money. The victim also changed the locks on the couple’s residence and told Beresford-Redman to stay away. The victim further notified the children’s schools that Beresford Redman should not be allowed to pick the children up from school.”

We are clearly watching a family disintegrate. Nonetheless, Beresford-Redman and his wife decide to take their son and daughter, aged three and five, on a vacation to the Moon Palace Resort in Cancun, Mexico, to try and patch things up.

We are then presented with still more evidence of conflict, this time from a hotel employee:

“A woman the hotel employee identified from a photograph as the victim, and a man the hotel employee identified from a photograph as looking similar to Beresford-Redman, argued in front of the Los Tacos restaurant at the Hotel on April 4, 2010 at about 8:30 p.m. The woman was crying. The man twice attempted to physically assault the woman, but the man stopped when he realized that he was being watched.”

A view from a room at the Moon Palace

The judgment then takes a minor leap, and refers back to a statement by Burgos in which “the victim told her, on that date, that the victim had discovered that Beresford-Redman was still receiving communications from the woman with whom he had been unfaithful.”

In other words, the court is reasonably inferring that this is the reason for the violent argument witnessed by the hotel employee on the night of April 4, 2010. (It was also noted that the couple had life insurance policies – if a parent died, the children would receive $500,000 each).   From here, Judge Chooljian builds the material and circumstantial evidence against Beresford-Redman.

Examples include:

“Beresford Redman also told Mexican authorities that on April 5, 2010 at about 8:30 a.m., he had had ‘a strong argument with his wife due to the behavior of his children.’”

“Around 6:00 a.m., on April 5, 2010, extremely loud banging and screams and cries for help, which sounded like a woman in extreme distress, emanated from the Hotel Room. The noises continued for around 15 minutes.” The judgment even footnotes this observation with “It can reasonably be inferred that Beresford-Redman incapacitated or killed the victim during this time period.”

Further observations from the court are as follows:

At approximately 8:30 a.m., hotel guests reported having heard loud noises from Beresford-Redman's room to the hotel concierge. The concierge called the hotel room and spoke to Beresford-Redman. Beresford-Redman told the concierge that he had been arguing with his wife about their children’s behavior but that it would not happen again.

Also on April 5, 2010, a “Do Not Disturb” sign was hung on the door to the Beresford-Redman’s hotel room from at least 8:30 a.m. to at least 5:00 p.m. Consequently, the hotel room was not serviced by the hotel’s cleaning staff that day. At one point that afternoon (around 2:00 p.m.), the hotel employee assigned to clean the room encountered Beresford-Redman coming out of the hotel room and asked Beresford-Redman if he wanted his room cleaned. Beresford-Redman indicated that he did not.

Perhaps the strangest piece of evidence comes for the key cards. Between April 5 at 9:02 p.m. and April 6, 2010 at 4:22 a.m. the room was accessed fifteen times, with five entries between 9:02 p.m. and 11:00 p.m.

Specifically, the records reflect that entries were made into the Hotel Room at 9:02 p.m., 9:28 p.m., 9:31 p.m., 9:35 p.m., 10:25 p.m., 11:01 p.m., 11:19 p.m., 12:33 a.m., 12:54 a.m., 1:58 a.m., 2:54 a.m., 3:34 a.m., 4:04 a.m., 4:09 a.m., and 4:22 a.m.

That’s a lot of activity, and very odd for a couple with a three year old and a five year old.

According to the extradition document –

“On the morning of April 6, 2010, Beresford-Redman told hotel employees that his wife was missing. He later reported her disappearance to the U.S. Consulate and the local prosecutor. On that date he told Mexican authorities the following: He had last seen the victim on April 5, 2010, between 8:30 and 9:00 a.m. The victim had been planning to do some shopping in Cancun and perhaps to go to the hotel spa. The victim wanted to find a place where she could find an activity involving swimming with dolphins that might be suitable for the couple’s children. The victim had approximately $400 U.S. in cash and at least a Chase Slate Visa credit card. He had expected the victim to return around 10:00 p.m. on April 5, 2010. His wife had been wearing a golden band.”

At this time Mexican authorities observed excoriations (scratches or abrasions) on the fingers of both of Beresford-Redman’s hands, on the back part of his neck, behind his right ear, on his chest, and on the tibia of his left leg. The wounds seemed to have been inflicted by fingernail scratches. A ‘criminalistics’ expert opined that the nature of the injuries supported the inference that they were caused during a fight.

Beresford-Redman has explained this by saying that he suffered injuries to his hands and feet on April 2, 2010 at a subterranean river when, after his son asked to get out of the river, Beresford Redman climbed a slippery rocky river wall with his son in his arms. He also claimed to have suffered injuries to the back part of his neck on April 4, 2010 during a jungle tour when, after diving into the water, he hit the back part of his head on a rope holding a boat.

As well, Beresford-Redman’s daughter stated that she was on Beresford-Redman’s back at the underground river, “that her father helped both she and her brother out of the water, that it was rocky, that her father got scratches on his arms and legs while helping them out of the water, and that later she put Band-Aids on her father’s scratches.”

But the court was giving Beresford-Redman little consideration here, either. Clearly, the testimony of such young children, who have lost their mother and are left with their father, and who were presumably asleep during their mother’s alleged murder, is suspect –  

“The Court notes that Beresford-Redman himself said nothing about carrying his daughter or incurring injuries while assisting his daughter in getting out of the river...the Court has concerns about the credibility of Beresford-Redman’s daughter’s statements. However, the child’s foregoing statements, even accepted as true, do not explain all of Beresford-Redman’s scratches and do not alter the Court’s view that probable cause exists to believe that Beresford-Redman committed the aggravated homicide of the victim.”

 Not looking good

As part of additional statements made by Beresford-Redman on April 7, 2010 to Mexican authorities, the accused offered a more detailed, and rather bizarre, explanation for what he was up to on the night of April 4 –

“On the night of April 4, 2010, he and the victim argued about activities for the next day.  Beresford-Redman did not sleep well the night of April 4, 2010, and visited the bathroom constantly throughout the night. His activities caused the victim and his son to awaken around 5:00 a.m. The three of them stayed awake until around 6:30 a.m. The three of them played a game named Mater that consisted of crashing against the wall, using the bed or any other object. The couple’s son was laughing and screaming during the game. They were making a lot of noise during the game, jumping on the floor and bed. The couple’s daughter slept all this time. After Beresford-Redman, the victim and their son stopped playing, they fell asleep. At around 8:30 a.m., the victim left the bed and Beresford-Redman and his son got up and watched a DVD movie while the victim got ready to leave. The victim left around 8:30 a.m. with $400 U.S. and around $100 in Mexican pesos and was wearing a blue dress.”

Beresford-Redman also denied telling the concierge that he had been fighting with the victim on the morning of April 5, 2010. In fact, he told Mexican authorities that he knew nothing about screams asking for help and that the only screams coming from the room were ones made when he, the victim, and their son (not their daughter) were playing –

“He further asserted that when, on April 5, between 9:00 and 9:30 a.m., the concierge called and advised him of a noise complaint, he apologized and told the concierge that he had been playing with his son, that they had been screaming and making noise, and that it would not happen again.”

Beresford-Redman then claims to have stayed with his children while the victim was out that day (April 5, 2010). He was sleeping at 10:00 p.m. with the children and expected that the victim would wake him up when she arrived because he thought, but was not sure, that she had a key. He awoke around 11:00 p.m. and noticed that the victim had not arrived yet –  

“He felt distressed but knew that she sometimes ran late. He noticed that the victim did not have her cell phone so he could not call her. Since he was so worried, he walked around the hotel to look for her. He went in and out of the room several times but never spoke to anyone at the hotel or reported the victim missing that night. He returned to his room and eventually fell asleep around 5:00 a.m.”

The Hotel claims it maintains very strict entrance and exit registry for its guests; every hotel guest leaving the property is identified. The security employee that covered the 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. shift had never seen the victim until being shown a video of her in connection with carrying out a search for her.

On April 8, 2010, a hotel employee found the victim’s naked body in a sewage cistern on the hotel grounds: 

 “The cistern was approximately 25 meters from the building where the hotel room was located. The victim’s purse was near the body. Among other things, the purse contained approximately $15 in pesos. The victim’s gold band was also recovered. The purse did not contain the victim’s passport, the victim’s cell phone, a credit card, or a hotel key card.”

As part of the evidence accepted, and quoted, by Judge Chooljian, a Mexican criminalist stated that “the place and position in which the victim’s body was found did not correspond to the original position of her death and that her death had occurred approximately 72 to 96 hours prior to such investigator’s intervention on the morning of April 8, 2010.”

An autopsy was conducted on the victim’s body, determining that a “chop wound” to the right side of the victim’s head was believed to be related to the time and date of her death.

However –

“The forensic pathologist opined that the likely cause of the victim’s death was asphyxia through suffocation.”

The court offered a detailed examination of inconsistencies in the statements of Beresford-Redman and his daughter, who was five at the time, and who gave a statement a year after the occurrences. It was observed that a mother of a five- and a three-year-old would not have left without her cell phone. As well, a subsequent medical examination of the victim’s body “resulted in the discovery of several additional wounds, including ecchymoses (superficial contusions) to the victim’s face caused by a blunt sharpless object of irregular shape, hard and with ledges, maybe a closed fist. The color of such ecchymoses suggested that they had been caused two or three days before the victim’s death”.

As well, on April 9, 2010, forensic examiners searched Beresford-Redman’s room. In the bathroom, forensic examiners noticed small spotting on the column of the washbasin. Examiners determined that several of these samples tested presumptively positive for the presence of blood. Forensic examiners found a reddish stain on one of the bed pillows, and later tested this stain for DNA, determining that it was consistent with human male blood. Forensic examiners found additional stains on the handrail of the balcony to the hotel room from which three samples were taken – all three of these samples tested presumptively positive for the presence of human blood. 

 Judge Jacqueline Chooljian seems convinced

In the end, Beresford-Redman was faced with this damning conclusion –

“The Court finds Beresford-Redman’s account not credible as it is inconsistent with the hotel’s key card records and common sense. Specifically, although Beresford-Redman told authorities that he awoke and began looking for the victim around 11:00 p.m., the key card records reflect five entries into the room before 11:00 p.m. – including four entries between 9:02 and 9:35 p.m. – before, according to Beresford-Redman, the victim had even planned to return. Moreover, it does not make sense that Beresford-Redman would not have checked with hotel staff during the night/early morning hours if he had actually been searching for his wife at that time (as opposed to disposing of evidence).

The Court infers that the children of Beresford-Redman and the victim were alone in the hotel room when Beresford-Redman left the room on multiple occasions in the late hours of April 5, 2010 and the early hours of April 6, 2010 and does not credit the statements of Beresford Redman’s daughter to the extent offered to show that the children were never left alone in the hotel room.

As Beresford-Redman’s counsel has pointed out, the security employee in issue was also on duty earlier in the week when, if Beresford-Redman and his daughter are to be believed, the family (including the victim), left the hotel grounds... Accordingly, Beresford-Redman’s counsel argues that the statement of the employee in issue – at least to the extent offered to demonstrate that the victim never left the hotel grounds on the date in issue – is unreliable.

Irrespective of the statements of Beresford-Redman and his daughter, evidence that the victim did not actually leave the hotel grounds on April 5, 2010 does not, in this Court’s view, make it any more or less likely that Beresford-Redman killed the victim or that he lied about the victim’s plans to leave the grounds.

If the victim had been robbed and had been killed by a robber, it does not make sense that any money or jewellery would have been left behind.

The Court finds Beresford-Redman’s statements not credible in light of the inconsistency between such statements and the statements of the concierge and the description of the screams by the hotel guests and the fact that the concierge and the hotel guests have no apparent motive to fabricate, whereas the same cannot be said of Beresford-Redman.

The Court finds that it can reasonably be inferred from the foregoing facts that on the morning of April 5, 2011, Beresford-Redman killed (or incapacitated and subsequently killed) the victim, that he kept the hotel cleaning staff from entering the hotel room to afford him time to attempt to sanitize the crime scene and to conceal his crime, that he disposed of the victim’s body during the night of April 5, 2010/the early morning hours of April 6, 2010, that he made inconsistent and false statements to hotel employees and the Mexican authorities about these events, and that such inconsistencies and falsehoods are indicative of a consciousness of guilt.”

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

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Wednesday 22 February 2012

In Mexico, guilt by association is often enough

(For an examination of all the players in the SNC-Lavalin/Cynthia Vanier story, and in particular an extensive and close tracking of money and influence, read: Former SNC-Lavalin exec may face Mexican extradition request.)

(For a highly detailed look at the evidence in the  Bruce Beresford-Redman case, see: The damning evidence against Bruce Beresford-Redman).

A look at four cases of foreigners who have been held in Mexican prisons – the French national Florence Marie Louise Cassez Crepin (Florence Cassez), the Canadians Pavel Kulisek and Cynthia (Cyndy) Vanier, and the American Bruce Beresford-Redman – reveals some commonalities: in Mexico, guilt is by association, the burden of proof is low, “evidence” is arbitrary, and domestic politics counts.

In the case of Florence Cassez, on February 10, 2011, a Mexican appeals court upheld her conviction for three kidnappings in 2005, as well as for organized crime and illegal possession of firearms. As a result, her 60-year sentence remains unchanged.

Ms. Cassez was arrested December 8, 2005. She was travelling on the road from Mexico City to Cuernavaca with her boyfriend Israel Vallarta. The two were detained overnight, and then moved to Vallarta’s farmhouse in the early hours of December 9. On the morning of February 9, the Mexican Federal Police then “tipped off” some journalists, and staged a fake arrest, which they video-taped. The video was splattered all over Mexican television, showing the faux heroics of Mexican police rescuing three kidnap victims, among them a child.

There were four arrests, including Cassez. She has always maintained her innocence. Her boyfriend, the leader of the presumed "Los Zodiaco" kidnap gang, has declared that Cassez knew nothing of his illegal activities.

Sadly, there was no-one within all of Mexican officialdom who was willing expose the fraud. Instead, it was Ms. Cassez herself who called in to a live television show to confront Genaro García Luna, the head of the Federal Police, with the truth of the staged arrest. As part of his damage control, Genaro García Luna then blamed pressure from the media, which resulted in one journalist, Pablo Reinah, being fired from his job. Reinah courageously filed a lawsuit, and won on the key facts of the case: the judge ruled that the media had no fore-knowledge of the staged arrest.

The three kidnap victims have given inconsistent testimony – some of it seems even to have been informed by the events staged by the police. Nonetheless, they do appear to have been kidnapped and to have been kept by Israel Vallarta’s gang. At least one of the victims also clearly states that, while blindfolded, she heard Ms. Cassez’s heavily accented voice.

The case has caused a huge dust-up between France and Mexico, with the French president Nicolas Sarkozy taking a personal interest in Ms. Cassez’s plight. No matter, the Mexican’s have dug in their heels, partly in response to victims' rights groups exhausted and terrified by the violence plaguing the country.

In the Cassez case there is a certain amount of Mexican pride involved. Once the Mexican authorities have a person in custody, they don’t like to move backwards. In effect, they arrest first, and then build the case later. This happens to some degree in most jurisdictions, but in Mexico it can take on a life of its own, resulting in forced confessions, altered witness statements, and planted evidence. These and other corrupt actions can be seen as “helping” the case along.

Of course, without the omniscience of God we cannot say if Ms. Cassez is innocent or guilty. But what we can say is that in most jurisdictions in Europe, as well as in the United States and Canada, her case would have been thrown out immediately upon the revelation of the staged arrest. It simply wouldn’t stand.

So, what we have, ultimately, is that Ms. Cassez, who has no prior criminal record, is guilty of having Israel Vallarta as her boyfriend. There is no visual or material evidence that places her at the scene of the crime. Nothing. 

Florence Cassez and Israel Vallarta after the staged arrest. Did she know?

In fact, there is strong evidence that suggests the victims never set foot in Mr. Vallarta’s ranch. The victims were able to offer excellent descriptions of Mr. Vallarta’s house in Xochimilco, where they were also allegedly held in captivity, but had confused and contradictory descriptions of “La Cabañita” located inside of Vallarta’s ranch. The inconsistencies are astounding: one of the victims declared that the TV was always loud, yet there was no electricity;  the gardener, who went in and out of La Cabañita daily, never saw any kidnap victims;  early testimony by the victims never mentioned that a woman was present with  kidnappers. The contradictions and lies are so extensive as to challenge one’s imagination.

What happened was clearly this: after her arrest on the highway with Israel Vallarta, Florence Cassez was “inside” the guilt-proving system – all police actions from then on were geared to advancing her guilt, as opposed to determining what, if any, role she actually played.

But she will get no sympathy in Mexico: there were weapons in the vehicle when she was arrested, and there is very strong evidence that Israel Vallarta was involved in a kidnapping ring. This is the kicker. Politics counts – the pressure from France was unprecedented – but at the end of the day you play for the home team crowd. And that crowd, all over Mexico, overwhelmingly believes that Florence Cassez is guilty.

Sadly, one could easily arrive at the same conclusion with regard to Pavel Kulisek, a Czech who immigrated to Canada 20 years ago. In 2008, Mr. Kulisek was on an extended family vacation with his wife and two young daughters in Baja, Mexico. He had befriended a Mexican named Carlos Herrera who, unbeknownst to Kulisek, was a drug dealer. The reason for the relationship was purely innocent: the two shared a passion for dirt biking.

In fact, the Mexican’s real name was Gustavo Rivera Martinez and he wasn’t just a dealer – he was a high ranking cartel member. Mr. Kulisek was arrested at a hot dog stand during a drug sweep that brought in Rivera Martinez and some other Mexican nationals.

As is common procedure in Mexico, Mr. Kulisek was then held for 80 days without charges. Once this passed, he was charged with drug trafficking and being a member of an organized crime organization. He was then held at the Puente Grande high security prison in Guadalajara.

What followed was a nightmare of judicial technicalities and corruption – the original prosecutor ended up in jail for taking bribes. Two days after his third anniversary in prison, Mr. Kulisek attempted suicide, whereupon he was transferred to a psychiatric facility in the state of Morelos.

Finally, after 1,254 days in prison, on April 19, 2011, Pavel Kulisek was released and returned to Canada. From a legal perspective, he was let go for one very simple and obvious reason: there was no evidence against him. The only evidence was that his friend was a criminal. By that standard, anyone who ever met Conrad Black would be in prison.

But practically speaking, the prime reason Mr. Kulisek survived his ordeal and was released was due to the superhuman efforts of his wife, Jirina Kuliskova. The sacrifices she made, the financial hardship she endured, the network of people she gathered around her – in short her untiring advocacy for her husband is the main reason he is free and alive today.

Yet there is third, perhaps equally important, reason for Kusilek’s release. His case was not a matter of domestic political pride. It was a much easier, and less controversial, case than Ms. Cassez’s. It was also more straightforward than the situation now faced by the Canadian Cynthia (Cyndy) Vanier.

As readers of La politica es la politica know all too well, Ms. Vanier was arrested on November 10 in Mexico City, and has subsequently been charged with organized crime, falsifying documents and attempted human smuggling.

The accusation is that Ms. Vanier was the financial ringleader of a group that was attempting illegally to smuggle Saadi Kadhafi – former Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi’s third son – from North Africa into Mexico.

This is an exceedingly complex case, with much contradictory information, but one thing is clear: it is a matter of domestic pride for the Mexicans that their country not been seen as refuge of convenience for bad people.

As a result, the domestic pressure on the Mexican judiciary to convict will be high, and the potential influence of the Canadian Government and Ms. Vanier’s family and friends will be limited. This is not to say that Ms. Vanier can’t be found innocent and released, but simply that the odds are longer when there is political pressure within Mexico to convict.

In the three examples given so far, all of the “presumed guilty” parties were, in effect, accused of being part of criminal conspiracies. Yet Mexican authorities have never provided evidence  of criminal collusion on the part of Ms. Cassez, Ms. Vanier, or Mr. Kulisek. Despite these individuals’ apparent close involvement in some very, very serious crimes, there are no emails, financial transactions, or incriminating phone calls that would suggest they were colluding with others to commit crimes.

The challenge is that one of the requirements for the success of much criminal activity is that it be kept secret. This is why conspiracy charges have their own burden of proof. It is not good enough simply to know someone, or to engage in suspicious activity. There has to be proof that individuals are colluding. But, sadly, in Mexico appearances often count for more than hard evidence.

The final example is that of Mr. Beresford-Redman, a U.S. reality television producer now facing trial in Quintana Roo for allegedly murdering his wife Monica at a Mexican resort in April, 2010. The body of Monica Beresford-Redman was found in a sewer cistern at a Cancun hotel three days after her husband reported her missing.

The U.S. Marshals Service turned Mr. Beresford-Redman over to Mexican federal police almost two weeks after State Department officials signed a warrant clearing his extradition. Beresford-Redman had opted in December, 2011, not to appeal a U.S. court ruling upholding his extradition.

Consequently, Mr. Beresford-Redmond returned to Mexico from the United States just before midnight on February 8th, 2012. He came via a government jet, escorted by more than a dozen Mexican agents, and was immediately incarcerated in Cancun.
Mr. Beresford-Redman: the odds may be against him
Beresford-Redman then had six days to hear the charges against him, and for his legal team to challenge both witnesses and evidence. At that point the judge was to determine if a trial would proceed or not.

What followed was a complete fiasco. The defense wanted to question the police investigator and a criminal expert, but both were out of town. Worse, all of the relevant physical evidence that might incriminate Mr. Beresford-Redman was missing, and no explanation was forthcoming as to how this could be so.

Then, late at night on Monday Feb. 13 around 10:00 p.m., the prosecution presented a box containing a wallet, some cards, a feminine hygiene product and other small items. None of this was actual evidence – it in no way materially pertained to whether or not the judge could make a determination of whether or not to proceed.

As well, according to defense experts, other than a set of footprints taken from the crime scene – neither of which were Beresford-Redman’s  – the evidence was hopelessly contaminated.

But the judge felt that the circumstantial evidence was strong, and ruled in favour of having Beresford-Redman stand trial for the murder of his wife Monica.

The trial will begin next week. At present, for his own protection, Mr. Beresford-Redman sits in isolation in his cell 24 hours a day.

The evidence against Mr. Beresford-Redman includes statements from hotel guests that on the night Monica Beresford-Redman went missing they heard arguing, and even cries of distress, coming from the couple's room. As well, the couple were apparently in Cancun to patch up their marriage, which was allegedly in crisis due to Mr. Beresford-Redman’s infidelity.

Given what we now know of Mexican judicial practices, what are the chances that Mr. Beresford-Redman will be found innocent?

There is limited political support from the United States. The U.S. government approved Mexico’s extradition request, and Mr. Beresford-Redman has complained he didn't have a consular representative when investigators questioned him after the murder. So, he can’t expect much support there.

But there is little domestic Mexican pressure, either – this is a case of one foreigner killing another, and does not tie in with larger questions of national security or public interest, as the other examples in this article do.

That said, the Quintana Roo state attorney general, Gaspar Armando Garcia Torres, stated early on that he expected the judge to order the case to go to trial, which means he felt strongly that there was political advantage to moving forward.

We are now left with the Mexican judicial system itself. In Mexico, you don’t build a case and arrest someone – you arrest someone, then build the case. The complete lack of forensic evidence should make it hard to reach a conviction, but that scenario might change.

Because in Mexico, once the arrow is launched, the guilty target must be hit.

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

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Wednesday 15 February 2012

Former SNC-Lavalin exec may face Mexican extradition request

(For an examination of the judicial experience of foreigners accused of crimes in Mexico, see: In Mexico, guilt by association is often enough).
Mexican authorities reportedly now have five more suspects in two alleged plots to bring Saadi Kadhafi, 38, to Mexico – the first from Libya, the second from Niger. These suspects include Stephane Roy, a former executive at SNC-Lavalin in Montreal.

Mexican sources close to the case say that Gregory Gillispie, CEO of Veritas Worldwide Security in San Diego, California, is also a suspect. Veritas Worldwide Security was the firm that provided a charter for Canadian Cynthia (Cyndy) Vanier to travel to North Africa in July – for what the Mexicans claim was a failed attempt to extract Saadi Kadhafi from Libya.

As well, Veritas Worldwide Security was allegedly lined up to provide the charter aircraft for a second attempt to bring Kadhafi to Mexico in late 2011. Mr. Gillespie, who is also Executive Vice President of Special Operations at Veritas Worldwide Solutions (which is now distancing itself from Veritas Worldwide Security), has vehemently denied any connection to such a plot.

And Stephane Roy has so far maintained complete silence. He may have to speak up soon, however, as the Mexican government clearly sees this as an open case – and they have their sights on Mr. Roy.

Sources within the Mexican government told the news program 24 Hours (24 Horas):

 "The investigation is not finished yet. We continue finding out about others involved, and other crimes (...). If necessary, we will extradite someone. The public prosecutor would use legal channels, and make an application to the appropriate government."

As it stands, the Mexican authorities have jailed four people: the Canadian Cynthia (Cyndy) Vanier, 52, the alleged “ringleader” of the plot, responsible for finances and contact with Saadi Kadhafi and his family; José Luis Kennedy Prieto, a Mexican citizen accused of forging documents to provide the Kadhafis with false identities; Gabriela Dávila Huerta, a Mexican national who lives in the United States, suspected of providing logistic/transportation support; and Pierre Christian Flensborg, 32, a Danish national, supposedly in charge of logistics.

Vanier and Davila Huerta are now in prison in Chetumal, Quintana Roo, on the Yucatan Peninsula. Kennedy Prieto and Flensborg are in jail in Veracruz, on the Gulf coast. (For more on Cynthia Vanier's prison conditions, see: Cynthia (Cyndy) Vanier incarcerated in one of the worst prison systems in Mexico).

Both Dávila Huerta and Flensborg were associates of Gillispie at Veritas Worldwide Security in San Diego. According to Gillispie, the two were in Mexico to collect from Vanier on an outstanding debt of $40,000 from the flight he had arranged for her to Tunisia in July. At no time, according to Gillispie, was Veritas Worldwide Security involved in a plan to move Kadhafi to Mexico.

Gary Peters, a body-guard and security consultant to Saadi Kadhafi who also worked with Cynthia Vanier, claims there had been a plan to move Saadi Kadhafi out of Libya, but it was dropped when it was determined that it couldn’t be done legally.

In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on February 13, 2012, Peters said countries approached included Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas, and Mexico. He also said that he went to Mexico to look at two properties for the Kadhafis, but no bids were ever made.

“The plan was to get him out of Libya and his family to another destination legally, somebody that would host him, some country that would host him and do everything legally,” said Peters. “There was like paperwork, documentation, transportation, air transportation, property acquisition and ongoing security, so to speak. That was the plan.”

According to Mr. Peters, all legal efforts to extract Saadi Kadhafi from Libya by air to another country were abandoned on June 16th. In the end, it was Mr. Peters who drove Saadi Kadhafi to the border with Niger, where Mr. Kadhafi is now under house arrest.

Follow the money...

According to the preliminary statement given by Christian Flensborg to the Mexican authorities – and obtained by 24 Hours – Gillispie, a decorated former U.S. Marine, and Gabriela Davila are co-owners of the Delaware-registered company GG Global Holdings.

The suspicion remains on the part of officials in the Mexican government that when Gillispie provided a Hawker 800 executive jet, in which several of those involved traveled to Libya in July 2011, the trip was in fact a first unsuccessful attempt to get Kadhafi into Mexico.

Hawker 800 - a pricey way to travel

This date falls after Peters claims all legal efforts to move Kadhafi to Mexico were abandoned, but corresponds with the “fact-finding” mission that Cynthia (Cyndy) Vanier and Gary Peters took to Libya at the behest of SNC-Lavalin. For that contract, which resulted in Ms. Vanier writing a report favourable to the Kadhafi regime and critical of NATO, Ms. Vanier was paid $100,000 by SNC-Lavalin.

It would seem odd that, as part of her responsibilities, she would also be the lead to subcontract a jet aircraft for $40,000 on a $100,000 contract. As well, the $40,000 appears to be the balance owed – presumably there would have been a significant down-payment.

But Ms. Vanier was – and according to her lawyer Paul Copeland, still is – owed another $395,000 from SNC-Lavalin. A month before her arrest on November 10, 2011, Ms. Vanier submitted a $395,000 invoice for “consulting, training and Risk Policy Deployment Implementation Employee Re-Integration Project.”

Both invoices were being handled by Stephane Roy, the former Vice-President Controller of SNC-Lavalin.

On August 4 Mr. Roy had expressed satisfaction with Ms. Roy’s work on the “fact-finding” mission contract. However, in an email to Ms. Vanier late in October, Mr. Roy said that SNC-Lavalin would not honour the second invoice, as that work had not yet been completed to satisfaction. It is unclear how Ms. Vanier could further assist with employee re-integration in Libya from her home in Bucerias, Mexico – near both Punta Mita and Puerto Vallarta. It is also unclear how that could possibly add up to almost $400,000.

Despite his lack of satisfaction with her efforts, Roy then travelled to Mexico to meet with Ms. Vanier in Mexico City on November 11. That meeting never happened: Ms. Vanier was arrested on November 10, and when Mr. Roy showed up for the meeting on the 11th he found that Ms. Davila Huerta was there. She was arrested; Mr. Roy was questioned and released.

What Cynthia Vanier had attempted to do, quite clearly, was to set up a meet between Davila Huerta and Stephane Roy. In other words, with a person whom she owed $40,000, and another from whom she felt she was owed $395,000. 

Roy claimed that the reason for the meeting was to discuss a water filtration project with Ms. Vanier. Ms. Vanier and a Mexican colleague had apparently reached out to some Mexican officials in this regard; however, Mr. Roy did not work in business development – he was a money man.  As well, Gabriela Davila Huerta, as an employee of Veritas Worldwide Security, would have had little to contribute to a discussion on water filtration.

Why was Mr. Roy not detained then? In Mexico, people suspected of involvement in a crime can be detained for 80 days without charge. It would have been easy to hold Mr. Roy for a few days, if only to question him further. It is possible in Mexico to dodge such a situation through what is called a “writ of amparo”, which offers some protection from arrest. This is a pre-emptive move.  It requires the authorization of a judge and, depending on the level of corruption and sophistication of the participants, can sometimes be bought.

It is unlikely, however, that Roy could have managed a writ on such short notice – or that he would even be aware that such a thing existed. Instead, it looks like at the time Mexican officials had not then connected the dots back to SNC-Lavalin. But they have now.

...and don’t stop following that money

In his statement to Mexican officials, obtained by 24 Hours, Mr. Flensborg said that in October of 2011 he met with Gillispie and Davila, first in Mexico and then in Switzerland. There is no explanation of why they were in Mexico, but in Switzerland they were ostensibly working on an investment project in Kosovo and Iraq.

Kosovo, according to Mexican officials, was a refuelling stop in the first attempt to fly Saadi Kadhafi out of Libya.  This is the effort that was allegedly abandoned when the pilots deemed it too dangerous to land in Libya – and which dovetails with the time that Vanier and Peters were in Libya on a “fact-finding” mission.

The second plot was allegedly underway when the four arrests were made on November 10 and 11. Recall, Peters has said there was a plan to move Kadhafi from Libya to Mexico, but it was abandoned on June 16 when all legal means were exhausted.

In his statement to the court Flensborg, the Danish employee of Veritas Worldwide Security who was allegedly in charge of logistics, made a startling admission: he stated that on November, 11, 2011, he too was supposed to meet with Stephane Roy. It may be that Vanier had informed both Davila Huerta and Flensborg that they were to meet with the chief financier of the operation, though it is still possible that Roy assumed his meeting was only with Vanier.

Flensborg himself is an unusual character. At the time of his arrest his former girlfriend and fellow Dane Jackie-Lee Navarro expressed surprise at his alleged involvement. The fashion model, who went out with Flensborg three years ago, said that the arrest was “totally absurd” and that Flensborg was “intelligent, calm, sweet and very helpful” adding that “it’s absolutely ridiculous – he’s not that type.”

But, in interviews with the Danish press, she also alluded to a lifestyle that didn’t add up.

 Navarro and Flensborg in happer times

For the eight months that the two were together in Houston, Texas, they lived like “very, very rich people”. She claimed his income came from selling “expensive life insurance”, and though she never felt Flensborg was involved with any criminal elements, he always made sure she had two body guards to take care of her.

She was left with the impression that he was very wealthy – as part of his work for his insurance company, they travelled extensively in private aircraft. She claims to have not known much about his business, but in reference to the Mexican arrest, she revealed something of his character when she said that her only guess was that things “might not have gone so well financially”.

Specifically, Navarro said that Flensborg knew some “very rich and influential people” in Mexico, where he travelled on business. She never knew what his business was in Mexico, though she was told that his friends travelled exclusively in highly armoured vehicles. She was never invited to join him.

Navarro’s observation that Flensborg might have fallen on hard times may be true: on December 5, 2010,  Flensborg was arrested in Houston on two charges: theft between $500 and $1,500; and failure to maintain financial responsibility. Ironically, his failure to maintain financial responsibility was due to “no insurance” – of what assets the dockets don’t say, but legal requirements usually only apply to areas of high liability, such as automobiles and aircraft.  He was released the next day with bond set at $500.

So...Where’s the money?

Alejandro Poire, Mexico’s interior minister, has referred the “vast financial” resources that the supposed criminal group had access to. It allowed them to sign contracts with private aviation, to purchase forged documents, and to put down-payments on properties.

The known numbers are as follows: $40,000 owed to Veritas Worldwide Security for chartering a Hawker 800 to Tunisia (and Kosovo, and an attempted landing in Libya, if the Mexican authorities are correct in their assumptions); a $57,000 down-payment on a $600,000 property on Punta Mita, near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (Vanier says this was to be her house, not Saadi Kadhafi’s – she needed it because her condominium could not accommodate her dog); and $1.25 million for an apartment at the St. Regis, an upscale hotel and residential complex in Mexico City (no down-payment had been made).

As well, Mr. Peters, in his initial effort to extract Saadi Kadhafi “legally” before abandoning his efforts on June 16, 20011, was offering private security contractors $1,000 a day to be part of the team that would get Saadi Kadhafi  and his family out of Libya.

In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on February 13, 2012, Peters said that “Nothing was asked of me from Saadi Kadhafi. Beginning of 2011, I instigated or tried to begin a process of getting him or extracting him from Libya to a different destination.”

How is this? Peters is obviously on some kind of retainer. His operations are being financed, and he is instigating some very expensive escape plans for Kadhafi – but not, apparently, at the behest of Kadhafi.

Later in the interview he states: “There was like paperwork, documentation, transportation, air transportation, property acquisition and ongoing security, so to speak. That was the plan. Now he never asked for this. This was done on our own bat to be presented to him to say, ‘OK, boss, you know, OK, Saadi, this is what I think should happen.’”

Gary Peters speaking to ABC

With regard to the “fact-finding” mission, Peters says that it happened on July 16, a full month after the Mexican plans were supposedly dropped. Mexican authorities, however, have not mentioned any previous legitimate outreach for Kadhafi to come to Mexico – something that would have required a direct appeal from Kadhafi himself. And when asked if SNC-Lavalin hired him, Peter says:

“Did they hire me? They didn't hire me as per se. Like, there was no contract written up between me and that company. But yes, they financed that July trip – for that purpose.”

He then laughs, refusing to say who else might have been involved. And when asked specifically how much he was paid to get Saadi Kadhafi to the border with Niger, he says:

“I can't tell you how much we were paid. I mean, that's just going to ... (sighs) ... Um, it was a substantial amount. It was worth it, as far as I'm concerned. But the bottom line is we did it for a friend and a client that needs our support. That's really what it comes down to. But I can't tell you how much it was or who paid it.”

There are only two sources of money for all of this activity: either Saadi Kadhafi, or SNC-Lavalin. Saadi Kadhafi’s assets were frozen, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have cash stashed somewhere. Switzerland, where Gillispie, Davila Huerta, and Flensborg met last year, is a possibility. More likely, however, the source of operational funds is SNC-Lavalin. And clearly, by Mr. Peter’s own admission, he was working for SNC-Lavalin without a paper trail.

Mr. Peters may not want to tell journalists who paid him, but he will have to tell the government. All income must be declared. Presumably, the RCMP and the Mexican authorities already have a good idea who was paying the freight for all of this. And sooner or later Mr. Roy will have to speak.

Ms. Vanier helps point us in the right direction, as well. She wrote in an email to the National Post in October: "Mr. Peters was retained to provide security and close protection for my fact finding mission in July. Saadi Gaddafi did not fund ANY of the work that I have done.”

"Since I was the fact-finder I have full knowledge of who my client is and can confirm that no funds have ever been provided by anyone on an asset freeze or travel-ban list. As had been requested I provided a report to a branch of the Canadian Government upon my return."

So, all arrows point to SNC-Lavalin.

End game

Mr. Peters is about to be questioned this month for possible deportation to Australia. That, in any case, is what he thinks might happen. It is possible the Mexicans could attempt to extradite him, too, though it appears that the evidence against him specific to Mexico is not strong.

Stephane Roy has kept a low profile, unlike his former boss, Riadh Ben Aissa, who says he plans a lawsuit against SNC-Lavalin. Both executives left SNC-Lavalin after news broke of Roy’s trip to Mexico to meet with Vanier on November 11. They tendered their resignations on February 9, 2012.

Ben Aissa, who oversaw SNC-Lavalin operations in Libya and had a close relationship with Saadi Kadhafi, has not said why he resigned. However, he has clearly taken offense to SNC-Lavalin’s announcement upon his departure, which said:

“Questions regarding the conduct of SNC-Lavalin employees have recently been the focus of public attention. SNC-Lavalin reiterates that all employees must comply with our Code of Ethics and Business Conduct.”

There are ripple effects in the United States, too. David Bejarano, the police chief in Chula Vista, California, was listed as executive vice president for law enforcement training on the website of Veritas Worldwide Solutions. He has ended that relationship, though Davila Huerta and Flensborg actually work for a related company, Veritas Worldwide Security.

That said, the two companies are closely linked: both had the same founding partners, Joseph Casas and Gregory Gillispie, and they shared the same website until the Mexico story broke.  Now, references to Veritas Worldwide Security as one of the “group companies” have been removed from the Veritas Worldwide Solutions website.

As well, Casas of Veritas Worldwide Solutions is now distancing himself from Gillispie and Veritas Worldwide Security, saying that he had no idea what Gillispie was working on with his other operations.

“We had different philosophies on business and more importantly on the type of business that we were engaged in,” Casas told local media. “He wanted to pursue other ventures that didn’t fall within scope of our operation, mainly chartering airplanes.”

That may be tough luck for Gillispie and his co-workers, because Veritas Worldwide Solutions’ Vice President of Latin American Operations is Antonio Martinez Luna, a former Attorney General for the Mexican State of Baja California. As Attorney General, Mr. Martinez' biography states that he was “responsible for coordinating the fight against organized crime in Baja California and coordinating those efforts between federal state and local agencies in Mexico and the United States”.

But Gillispie is sticking to his guns. He has told the media that for the Mexican authorities “to be making these kinds of connections, that my partners are doing bogus passports and doing money laundering and trafficking people, this is like somebody's reading a freaking Tom Clancy novel or something. It's ludicrous the way they're piecing this all together.''

As for extraditing Roy from Canada to Mexico, it could be done. It’s a three step process.

First, Canada needs to receive the evidence from Mexico. The evidence has to be for something that is a crime in Canada, too, or what’s called “dual criminality”. The crime has to be serious enough to warrant  two or more years of incarceration.

Second, there is an extradition hearing which occurs in front of a judge. The burden of proof is lower than that at a trial. Essentially, the judge has to determine that the correct person has been detained, and for the correct charges.  

The third step goes to the Minister of Justice. This is where politics enters the fray. If Canada’s Minister of Justice doesn’t think the person is going to receive a fair trial, or if there is considerable political pressure not to extradite, then no one is going anywhere.

For example, Mexico’s Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, a trade union leader, remains in Canada despite Mexican efforts to extradite him. He has been accused by the Mexican government of misappropriating 55 million dollars in union funds, but the Canadian government has refused extradition, as they fear the accusation may be politically motivated.

N.B: La politica is researching for a book on SNC-Lavalin.

To contribute as a possible source, please use the contact information provided below.

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

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