Saturday 4 February 2012

SNC-Lavalin gets protection, Cynthia (Cyndy) Vanier does not

And 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.

When La politica es la politica first mentioned the case of the Canadian Cyndy Vanier – who had been detained by Mexican authorities last November 10 in an alleged plot to smuggle Saadi Kadhafi, the 38-year-old son of deceased Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi, to Mexico – we were inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt.

There was, after all, nothing in her history as a mediator for indigenous groups in Canada that would suggest such a Spy vs. Spy scenario. We reported then, as her relatives still argue, that she may have been guilty only of being “too trusting”. The Libya-Mexico caper all seemed to be beyond her known background as a consultant in a three-person firm in rural Mount Forest, Ontario.

However, we now know that in July 2011, as Moamer Kadhafi was under pressure from rebel forces, the Montreal-headquartered engineering firm SNC-Lavalin hired Ms. Vanier to travel to Tripoli. This was labelled as a “fact-finding mission”, but it ended up being a PR effort to write up an account that was favourable to the regime.

Ms. Vanier was accompanied on her Libya trip by Gary Peters, president of Can/Aus Security & Investigations International Inc. in Cambridge, Ontario. Mr. Peters is a security contractor who has admitted in numerous media interviews that he had worked for the Kadhafi family since 2004, and was part of a team than helped Saadi Kadhafi escape from Libya to Niger. He also admitted to having worked on a plan to find exile for Saadi and his family in Mexico, claiming that his involvement in the plan had been abandoned when it was deemed impossible to obtain legal documents.

The Mexican authorities assert that there was an active plan, and that Cyndy Vanier and her co-conspirators twice attempted to fly Saadi Kadhafi out of Libya to safety in Mexico. Property was purchased in an exclusive locale north of Puerto Vallarta. Numerous forged documents, including passports, were seized.

Specifically, Mexican prosecutors allege that Vanier was carrying a forged Mexican voting card when she was arrested.  Officials also claim they seized a fake Mexican passport and a doctored birth certificate in her name. If so, it would be nice to see that evidence – Mexico may have a shoddy justice system by Canadian standards, but they aren’t inclined to work up that kind of documentation if they don’t have to. As well, believe it or not, Mexico's voting cards are of a high quality, and to forge one would require significant effort and premeditation.

(NB: It now looks as though the forgery attmepts were sloppy at best. See Mexican officials may be implicated in document forgery).

Ms. Vanier was arrested in Mexico City the day before she was supposed to show up for a meeting with Gabriela Davila Huerta – a Mexican national and accused co-conspirator. According to SNC-Lavalin, Stephane Roy, the company’s Vice-President Controller, also went to attend the meeting with Ms. Vanier to “discuss a possible water treatment project” but was “met by someone else”. This other person, presumably Ms. Davila Huerta, was detained, but Mr. Roy, after brief questioning, was not.

Ms. Vanier now faces charges of human trafficking, organized crime and falsification of documents. Three others – Pierre Christian Flensborg (a Dane), Ms. Davila Huerta, and another Mexican, José Luis Kennedy – have also been arrested.

SNC-Lavalin walks from the sting

There are a number of oddities in this recounting of events.

The first is that Stephane Roy would fly to Mexico to discuss a water project with Ms. Vanier. Mr. Roy is a money man, heavily involved in the company’s business in Libya. He is a former Vice-President Finance and Admin, and a former VP Investor Relations. He does not negotiate water deals while flying solo to Mexico.

The second is that Cyndy Vanier does not bring people into deals – she gets brought in. There is no evidence whatsoever that she had any dealings with any Mexican authorities for a water project. If so, I’m sure we would have heard about it. (NB: New information has come to light suggesting that Vanier was trying to negotiate water projects - please go here for most recent updates on this story).

Why then does an SNC-Lavalin money-man fly all the way to Mexico City to talk to Cyndy Vanier, who to date has only worked as a white-washer on the Libya file, to talk about a water project? And, given that there is no water project – certainly Ms. Vanier, in her two months pleading innocence, has not mentioned such a thing – what on earth were they to talk about?

The third oddity is that Mr. Roy was not detained on the spot. Mexico does not have habeas corpus as it is understood in the United States and Canada. This is why, if you are ever to visit Mexico, your guide book might give you the distressing advice to leave the scene of motor vehicle accident, even if someone is hurt. The reason is that the authorities might decide to keep you in custody as a material witness until they can figure things out.

It is remotely possible that Mr. Roy had what is called a writ of amparo. (Ms. Vanier, in her naïveté or inexperience, certainly did not). The writ of amparo is a kind of grandfather clause that partially reverses the harsh Napoleonic Code, and assures that some individuals can be presumed to be innocent, or at least protected from detention.

The well-connected in Mexico use this as a pre-emptive strike. While a writ of amparo is not an admission of guilt, it is an acknowledgement that the authorities may have interest in detaining certain individuals. In the past – and many would say to this day, as well – Mexican judges would offer a writ of amparo for a personal fee. As a result, the rich could often avoid prosecution.

Another – and much less remote – possibility is that Mr. Roy made a phone call to some influential people, and the police realized they were in over their heads. Either way, there has to be an explanation, because under Mexican law authorities can hold people linked to serious crimes for up to 80 days without formal charges.

It is important to note that this is a very serious crime in Mexico, one that has the personal attention of Secretary of the Interior Alejandro Poiré, a ranking member of president Felipe Calderon’s cabinet. To appear at that meeting would be very, very bad news. Unless, of course, you happen to be a senior executive of a multinational with over CAN$6 billion in revenue.

Alejandro Poiré

One thing is clear: something happened to stop Mr. Roy from being detained, because the Mexican authorities were under the impression that the meeting had been called by Ms. Vanier to iron out the details of Saadi Kadhafi’s illegal transit to Mexico. And Ms. Davila Huerta, by all accounts, is not a water expert.

When Mr. Roy showed up and gave his story, the police would have scratched their heads. Apparently, while Ms. Vanier and Ms. Davila Huerta were to be talking secret flights, forged travel documents, and real-estate transactions, Mr. Roy would be bemusedly wondering why they weren’t talking water.

Nowhere in any other accounting of this incident, which is now three months old, has a water project been mentioned. It makes no sense whatsoever. And if the water project story is not true, we must accept that it is not even a conceit that Ms. Vanier or the other alleged conspirators are in on, as none of them have referred to it.

There’s more. 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 had refused to honour the invoice.

That’s odd. If you are of the opinion that a consultant is trying to bilk you out of $395,000, why do you go down to Mexico, a country that Ms. Vanier has no familiarity with, to discuss a contract for a water project, which is outside of her realm of expertise? And why do you go if you are a money man, and not a water project guy?

We also have further evidence that Mr. Roy had a direct financial relationship with Ms. Vanier, because in December, before news broke of his presence in Mexico, Vanier’s lawyer made available documents to CBC News which quote Roy as saying to Vanier: “We have already advanced $100,000 (plus $13,000 HST) against this invoice and cannot advance any further funds as services have not been rendered.”

One could speculate that Mr. Roy was in Mexico to discuss with Ms. Vanier what she might have to do to realize the "services rendered" as part of her CAN$395,000 invoice. That service, as we know, was for “consulting, training and Risk Policy Deployment Implementation Employee Re-Integration Project.”

Luckily for Ms. Vanier and Mr. Roy, there is no evidence that Saadi Kadhafi was ever an employee of SNC-Lavalin. Sadly for Saadi, given the special treatment he had previously received from SNC-Lavalin, he may have thought he was a unique case, and deserving of assistance in his integration into Mexico.

SNC-Lavalin’s sketchy past

SNC-Lavalin has had a long-standing relationship with Saadi Kadhafi – they even put him up in Canada for three months in 2008. They seem to have bet that the hundreds of millions of dollars they had tied up in contracts in Libya would be safer with Saadi as their friend.

Given the company’s 25-year history in Libya, that might come as no surprise. But it seems SNC-Lavalin may have got too tight with the regime, and lost its moral bearings, if it ever had any. The company was building a jail in Tripoli as the government fell, despite the open secret that Muammar Kadhafi’s security forces committed a massacre at the Abu Salim prison in 1996. After the regime collapsed, the remains of about 1,270 individuals were found at that site, many of them political prisoners.

The company also has a, shall we say, inconsistent relationship with the truth. It first denied Ms. Vanier’s Libya trip, with SNC-Lavalin spokesperson Leslie Quinton telling the National Post that “We did not participate in any fact-finding mission in Libya last summer.”

As well, in initial statements to CBC News, SNC-Lavalin had “flatly denied any involvement with Vanier” after the Libya trip.

Specifically, Quinton wrote in an email on Jan. 26:  “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.”

Ms. Quinton is adept at damage control: in this YouTube video (in French) she speaks before a largely corporate audience, explaining how SNC-Lavalin had to work hard to build back its reputation after a Wikipedia entry that alluded to a corruption scandal in India. You will notice how clean the site is now, though they couldn’t stop a completely new Wikipedia page titled SNC Lavalin scandal.

As well, in September last year the RCMP raided the company’s Toronto offices in connection with a corruption probe into a World Bank-funded bridge project in Bangladesh. And, for our Canadian readers, who can forget the “accident” that was the collapse of the Ville Marie Tunnel in Montreal.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose!

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

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  1. Thank you so very much for this wee expose. It is so appreciated. I've been wondering how I can write to our opposition justice ministers, as I am not a writer, this story is as about as fishy as anything I have ever read. I'm surprised you did not mention Canada's embarrassment at the pro-regime report she wrote, (without details) of the many 'atrocities' committed by NATO. This woman could spend up to 20 years or more in a federale prison, it is unjust if she was a 'dupe' as Peters suggests. Thank you again, a good service you provide and if you don't mind I will try to write a letter for all opposition/media from your good post.

    1. Thanks Toe - Always great to get support. I plan on putting up another post later this week with a timeline. The story is complex, and as you noted I didn't emphasize the true extent of Ms. Vanier's pro-regime work. As in most situations like this, there is one simple and profound directive: follow the money. Stay tuned. TW.

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