Friday 10 February 2012

SNC-Lavalin looks in mirror, sees self

Read the most recent news: Former SNC-Lavalin exec may face Mexican extradition request.

For a detailed look at the conditions Cynthia (Cyndy) Vanier faces at the prison facility in Chetumal, Mexico, check out this post: Cynthia (Cyndy) Vanier incarcerated in one of the worst prison systems in Mexico.

Please note: a timeline of events appears at the end of this post.

News that SNC-Lavalin executives Riadh Ben Aïssa and Stephane Roy have been fired from their posts is a clear indication the Canadian engineering company believes there was something untoward in their professional conduct with regard to an alleged plot to spirit Saadi Kadhafi to safety in Mexico.

Specifically, in the press release announcing that the executives had been let go, SNC-Lavalin stated that “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.”

The code of ethics itself is a rather straightforward document. However, it reveals a potential conflict of interest common to many corporations when it states that:

“Client satisfaction is central to SNC-Lavalin's continued success. SNC-Lavalin makes every effort to understand its clients' and customers' requirements and concerns and to respond to them, efficiently, fairly and equitably.”

When one of your biggest clients is murderous dictator Moamer Kadhafi, for whom you are building a prison, perhaps former Executive Vice-President Riadh Ben Aïssa and Vice-President Controller Stephane Roy should be given some consideration for being a little confused.

I certainly am, and I don’t earn $1,739,473 a year, which was what Riadh Ben Aïssa made in 2010. What does SNC-Lavalin’s “code of ethics” really mean?

Under “Gifts, Favours, Entertainment and Payments Given by SNC-Lavalin”, for example, the company clearly states that these gestures have to meet all of the following criteria: they are consistent with accepted business practices; they are of sufficiently limited value, and in a form that could not be construed as a bribe or payoff; they are not in violation of applicable laws and generally accepted ethical standards; public disclosure of the facts will not embarrass SNC-Lavalin.

I guess that means paying many of the bills for the inner circle of one of the world’s most notorious dictators – including hotels, security and transportation – is not cause for embarrassment. Must be, because that is exactly what SNC-Lavalin did when Saadi Kadhafi, Moamer’s third son, travelled to Canada in 2008.

During that visit, Saadi, who is now wanted by Interpol, purchased a $1.8 million condominium in Toronto. That asset has since been frozen by the Department of Justice.

A long and deep friendship

Riadh Ben Aïssa was close to Saadi Kadhafi. According to CBC News, SNC-Lavalin insiders claim that Ben Aissa arranged for SNC-Lavalin to fly Gary Peters, one of Saadi’s body guards, from Canada to Tunis. Here, Peters and Ben Aïssa participated in a video conference with Roy and Saadi Kadhafi in which they discussed plans for getting Saadi out of Libya.

Peters himself has confirmed that he then went from Tunisia to Libya, and helped escort Saadi to the border with Niger, where the younger Kadhafi crossed over in contravention of UN travel bans.

For his part, Stephane Roy travelled to Mexico City last November to meet with Canadian consultant Cyndy Vanier, purportedly to discuss a water treatment project. However, Ms. Vanier, who had conducted an SNC-Lavalin-sponsored,  pro- Kadhafi “fact-finding” tour of Libya last July, was arrested the day before the meeting took place.

She is now accused by Mexican authorities of being the ring-leader of an illegal conspiracy to ferret Saadi and his family out of Niger and to safety in Mexico.

SNC-Lavalin is clearly feeling the heat. The Globe and Mail recently reported on documents it had obtained that showed SNC-Lavalin working closely with Saadi from 2008-2010  to set up a joint civil-military unit in Libya. The documents reveal that the negotiations even went so far as to consider creating a logo combining the blue of SNC with the green of the Libyan flag.

Executives “gone rogue”?

One theory being bandied about is that Riadh Ben Aïssa and Stephane Roy were “rogue executives”, operating outside of the purview of the rest of the company. If so, that would offer one legitimate explanation as to why SNC-Lavalin initially denied that any of its people had had contact with Cyndy Vanier when, in fact, Stephane Roy was both paying her contracts and flying to Mexico City to meet her.

However, Vanier had a reason of sorts to be in Mexico: she had a winter home in Bucerias, north of Puerto Vallarta – very close to the exclusive Punta Mita resort where Saadi allegedly was headed.

There is also some evidence that Vanier, and perhaps Roy, actually thought they were going to discuss water treatment.

Specifically, emails provided to the CBC by Vanier’s lawyer Paul Copeland, reveal that Vanier wrote to SNC-Lavalin October 28 saying that “There are very aggressive development plans on the horizon in many regions in Mexico”. Referencing water treatment projects, Vanier said that she had a Mexican associate who was helping to set up meetings with Mario Lopez-Valdez, the governor of the state of Sinaloa, as well as the general director of Mexico’s federal electricity commission, Antonio Vivanco Casamadrid.

Apparently, an SNC-Lavalin executive got wind of the proposed excursion by Roy, claimed the company was not interested, and cancelled the trip. The question remains: why then did Roy go? Managers within SNC-Lavalin are wondering why Roy, a financial controller, went to talk about a water project – not exactly his job. La politica es la politica made exactly the same observation when we last covered this story.

Neither Roy nor Ben Aïssa will talk to the press, and SNC-Lavalin claims that the RCMP has not, to its knowledge, requested any information from the company or its employees. SNC-Lavalin also refuses to discuss if others in the company were aware of Roy’s trip to Mexico to meet with Cyndy Vanier.

Sometimes revolutions mess up your plans - and profits

Some questions

There are still many aspects of this story that call into question the role of Ms. Vanier and SNC-Lavalin as an organization.

The first concerns Ms. Vanier’s financial relationship to SNC-Lavalin. A month before her arrest Vanier submitted a $395,000 invoice for “consulting, training and Risk Policy Deployment Implementation Employee Re-Integration Project.” She had already been paid a retainer of $113,000, and SNC-Lavalin – specifically Stephane Roy – had refused to honour the $395,000  invoice.

What was this money purportedly for? Why would Roy fly to meet Vanier if he was unhappy with her work? And, given that the Kadhafi regime had already collapsed, what other services could she provide in that regard, allowing that the invoice was clearly not for a water treatment project?

In her email to SNC-Lavalin regarding possible water-treatment projects, Ms. Vanier referenced two high-ranking Mexican officials: Mario Lopez-Valdez, the governor of the state of Sinaloa, and the general director of Mexico’s federal electricity commission, Antonio Vivanco Casamadrid.

Can either of these individuals confirm that contact was attempted?

The Mexican authorities claim to have discovered the alleged conspiracy while investigating the theft of 4,586 blank Mexican passports in 2009. In the course of their investigation, they allegedly discovered that the conspirators hired pilots in July 2011 to fly from Mexico to Kosovo, and from there to Tunis, the Tunisian capital, before heading to Libya.

That attempt apparently failed when the pilots deemed it too dangerous to land in Libya. A second attempt was allegedly in play, with both pilots and a plane hired and set to go from Mexico, when authorities, acting on anonymous tips, closed in on the presumed conspirators.

Given that Saadi Kadhafi’s assets had been frozen, how were these operations being financed?

Mexican authorities have mentioned there might be a fifth suspect in the conspiracy.

Who is this person?

Some numbers

$418 million – SNC-Lavalin’s 2010 revenue from Libya

6% – How much of SNC-Lavalin’s total revenue Libya represented in 2010

25 – Number of years SNC-Lavalin has been conducting business in Libya

1,270 – Number of people, many of them political prisoners, massacred at the Abu Salim prison in 1996

$270 million – Size of SNC-Lavalin contract to build a prison in Libya

$1,739,473 – Salary received by SNC executive Riadh Ben Aïssa in 2010

And a timeline

June 2011

According to Gary Peters, president of Can/Aus Security & Investigations International Inc. in Cambridge, Ontario, Saadi Kadhafi plans to escape to a property near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, but the plan is abandoned when it is impossible to obtain legal travel documents from the Mexican government.


SNC-Lavalin hires Cyndy Vanier, a consultant who works mostly on indigenous mediation issues out of a three-person firm in rural Mount Forest, Ontario, to go on a “fact finding mission” to Libya. Vanier hires Peters, whom she had met in Attawapiskat, the struggling First Nations community, when she was working for the multinational mining giant De Beers. The mission, paid for by SNC-Lavalin, results in Vanier writing a report that is sympathetic to the Kadhafi regime and that portrays NATO involvement in a negative light.


Vanier is questioned by Canadian national security officials about her work in Libya. She secures her Canadian lawyer,  Paul Copeland.


Vanier and her husband land at the Region of Waterloo International Airport in a chartered jet. She is questioned by INSET - the Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams (consisting of the RCMP, Canadian Security Intelligence Servcies (CSIS), and the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA)).

A few weeks later, when she flies out of Waterloo en route to Mexico on a chartered jet, her flight is delayed after she is searched by a group of Canadian Border Service agents.

October 28

Vanier writes an email to Stephane Roy at SNC-Lavalin from her property in Bucerias, Mexico, near Puerto Vallarta, stating that “There are very aggressive development plans on the horizon in many regions in Mexico.” She further claims that a Mexican colleague is attempting to set up meetings with high-ranking Mexican government officials to discuss water treatment projects.

October 21

Vanier submits a $395,000 invoice for “consulting, training and Risk Policy Deployment Implementation Employee Re-Integration Project” to Stephane Roy at SNC-Lavalin. She had already been paid a retainer of $113,000. Roy, who had expressed satisfaction with the previous work, refuses to honour the second invoice, claiming that the work has not been completed to satisfaction.

November 10

Vanier is arrested in Mexico City and accused of human trafficking, organized crime and falsification of documents. Mexican authorities allege that Vanier was carrying a forged Mexican voting card when she was arrested, and that they also seized a fake Mexican passport and a doctored birth certificate in her name.

November 11

Gabriela Davila Huerta, a Mexican living in the United States, arrives for what she allegedly believes is a meeting with Vanier in Mexico City. While Davila Huerta is waiting, SNC-Lavalin executive Stephane Roy arrives.  Davila Huerta is arrested, but Roy, after being questioned by police, claims he is in Mexico to discuss a water treatment project with Vanier, and is released. The story breaks of the arrest of Vanier and Davila Huerta, but there is no news of Roy’s presence. SNC-Lavalin does not divulge this information. More recent reports now state that the two were arrested while travelling together in a car.

January 26

Email to the CBC from Leslie Quinton, Vice-President, Global Corporate Communications at SNC-Lavalin: “SNC-Lavalin has not been involved with Ms. Vanier since the fact finding mission in early summer 2011. The company has not contacted her or her family since her arrest since we have no connection with her presence in Mexico.”

January 28

Mexican authorities charge Vanier, Pierre Christian Flensborg (a Dane), Davila Huerta and Jose Luis Kennedy Prieto (both Mexican) for attempted trafficking of undocumented people, organized crime and falsifying official documents.  Authorities allege that there is a fifth un-named suspect.

February 3

SNC changes tune: Leslie Quinton confirms Stephane Roy travelled to Mexico to meet Cyndy Vanier, purportedly to discuss potential water filtration projects.

February 7

Charges are dropped against Pierre Christian Flensborg and Jose Luis Kennedy Prieto. However, it remains possible that the men could be charged with conspiracy of human trafficking.

February 10

SNC-Lavalin issues a press release confirming that employees Riadh Ben Aissa, a Tunisian-Canadian who served as Executive Vice-President, and Stephane Roy, Vice-President Controller,  were no longer employed by the company.

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

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1 comment:


    Really? They weren't too upset when one of their employees sent an e-mail organizing a Pro-Assad rally at Queen's Park last year.