Saturday 28 April 2012

BC gangsters outgunned again: Thomas Gisby killed in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico

Canadian Thomas Gisby, 47, was shot twice in the head at close range by two men around 9 a.m. on Saturday, April 28th, in the Paradise Plaza Mall in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico.

(See also Interpol central to Lucier arrest in Mexico for details on the May 2nd arrest of the Canadian drug trafficker Nicholas Michael Lucier.)

Gisby, who had just placed his order at a Starbucks in the mall, died at the scene. The Mexican newspaper El Universal reported that the suspects fled in a Volkswagen Jetta, and that one suspect was arrested by Mexican police.

The paper Noticia Terra has given a slightly different account, reporting that one of the killers escaped on public transit, with Mr. Gisby having been shot in the chest.

Both accounts agree that the weapon of choice was a Magnum 44.

Nuevo Vallarta is on Mexico’s Pacific coast, in the State of Jalisco, only a few miles north of the popular resort town of Puerto Vallarta.

Mr. Gisby appeared to be living quite well. He was a resident of the Green Bay Condominium complex, on the El Tigre golf course.

The (normally very tranquil) Paradise Plaza Mall

Gisby, a well-known drug trafficker, had previously been targeted in an explosion in Whistler, B.C., in January of this year. At that time Gisby and another man were camping in an RV in a public parking lot when someone detonated explosives, apparently trying to kill them. Both victims received minor injuries in the blast.

Police said then that the explosion was believed to be gang-related. Gisby had links to both the Hells Angels and Dhak group, and had been involved in the drug trade in BC for more than 20 years.

The Dhak group has been the subject of retaliatory hits since last summer's daylight murder in Kelowna, BC, of Red Scorpion Jonathon Bacon. Hells Angel associate Larry Amero was also wounded in that shooting.

Canadian police believe the Dhak and Duhre gang, which has also been the subject of retaliatory hits, are involved in a turf war with elements of the Hells Angels, the Independent Soldiers, and the Red Scorpions gang, which is now largely out of commission.

In January of this year the Vancouver gangster Sandip "Dip" Duhre, 36, was killed in a similar hit to the one that took Gisby’s life:  he was shot to death in a busy restaurant in Vancouver's Sheraton Wall Centre.

The Dhak group has been around for some time. In 1998 gangster Bindy Johal was killed in a nightclub. As well, in October 2010, Gurmit Singh Dhak lost in his life in a targeted hit – the second known attempt on his life.  

BC traffickers have been active in Mexico in recent years, but it seems they have met their match in a drug market that is quick to settle scores violently.

In Mexico, traffickers don’t fail when they try to blow up their enemies in RVs. That seems almost comical. Instead, they hire a sicario, or assassin, for a few hundred bucks.

If the sicario fails, he usually dies, too, so the success rate tends to be very high.

Gisby is the sixth BC man with links to local drug trade who has been shot to death in Mexico in recent years. The Pacific coast, and particularly the Puerto Vallarta area, as well as the inland city of Guadalajara, also in the state of Jalisco, seem to be places of interest for Canadian traffickers.

(For more detailed info on some of those other killings, see Canadian death in Mexico likely drug-related.)

This area or plaza, has historically been controlled by the Pacific/Sinaloa Cartel, which is overseen by the most wanted man in the Americas, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzman.

However, it has been destabilized by Jalisco’s violent and fast-growing New Generation (“Nueva Generación”) Cartel, as well by the incursion of the ultra-violent Los Zetas Cartel, which originated in Mexico’s northeast and Gulf Coast, but is now extending its influence throughout the country.

The Sinaloa Cartel has been fighting off Los Zetas via a sub-group of hit-men known as The Resistance (“La Resistencia”). This group is also sometimes called the United Cartels (“Cárteles Unidos”) because it has included operatives from the Gulf Cartel and Knights Templar Cartel, all of whom are united in trying to defeat Los Zetas.

The Banderas bay area of Jalisco, which includes Puerto Vallarta, Nuevo Vallarta, Bucerias, La Cruz, and Punta Mita at its top, is statistically a very safe place for North Americans – so long as they stay clear of the drug trade.

For example, Jacob Semler, 31, of Oklahoma, was robbed and killed two months ago near Puerto Vallarta and – though little is known of Mr. Semler or the circumstances surrounding his death – it has been suggested to La politica that it was drug related.

Mr. Semler, who had lived in Puerto Vallarta for ten years, reportedly stepped out to the store in the Marina area on February 28th and never returned home.

At the time, a private investigator told the family that his body was found several miles away from Puerto Vallarta. The investigator theorized that it was the police who had moved the body in order to reduce the bad publicity for the resort town.

After several days, Semler’s decomposing  body was discovered in the San Clemente area and brought to a funeral home in Bucerias to await identification. Mr. Semler appeared to have died from a blow to the head.

Mr. Semler, who had a wife and child, was working for Puerto Bahia in La Cruz.
Jacob Semler - still a mystery

La politica made repeated efforts to try and determine what happened to Mr. Semler, but to no avail. The murderer has not been caught.

However, one individual claimed to have known Mr. Semler  “from my timeshare days”, and asserted that  Mr. Semler was a drug user. But this could not be verified, and no police force has specifically connected Mr. Semler’s death with the drug trade, as has been done with Mr. Gisby’s killing.

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

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

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SNC-Lavalin: dysfunctional, amoral, and open for business in Canada

Corporations tend to be craven entities. Why? Because they are financially rewarded for being disloyal to those who do not serve their interests, no matter who those people might be.

There is no better example of this than the Canadian engineering giant, SNC-Lavalin, which has repeatedly engaged in suspect activity for its own financial gain. When it gets caught, it cuts loose people who, up until they landed in hot water, were considered stand-up folks doing good work for the company.

Below is a list of some of the troubles that the firm has faced, followed by an analysis of a few of the company’s issues, and, finally, an accounting of how good business has been in Canada recently.

1990s.   SNC-Lavalin, with funding assistance from Export Development Canada (EDC) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), lands a big hydro deal in India. Investigators find that SNC-Lavalin’s lack of professional oversight and financial mismanagement results in a financial loss of about 375 core, or $75 million, to the state of Kerala.

2011: September. The RCMP raids SNC-Lavalin’s offices in Toronto as part of an investigation into corruption at the Padma Bridge project in Bangladesh.

2011. November. SNC-Lavalin contractor Cynthia Vanier is arrested in Mexico City, accused of leading a plot to smuggle Saadi Gaddafi to Mexico. Saadi, the third son to fallen Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, was the point person for hundreds of millions of dollars of SNC-Lavalin business in Libya.

2011. November. The day after Ms. Vanier’s arrest, SNC-Lavalin executive Stephane Roy, a financial controller who hired Ms. Vanier, is briefly detained by police in Mexico City.  

2012: February. Stephane Roy and his boss, executive vice-president Riadh Ben Aissa, resign or are let go, depending on who is lying. In a statement, SNC-Lavalin vaguely asserts that “all employees must comply with our Code of Ethics and Business Conduct”.  Stephane Roy goes dark, and Ben Aissa, in an impressive display of moral outrage, threatens legal action, (though that may now be more difficult, given that as of mid-April has been in a Swiss jail cell).

2012: April. The World Bank, the world’s largest development organization, sets its sights on the SNC-Lavalin subsidiary connected to the Bangladeshi job, and suspends its right to bid on projects.

2012: April. SNC-Lavalin CEO Pierre Duhaime resigns after an “internal investigation” determined he had signed off on unauthorized payments. To date, those payments total $56 million, and appear to be related to Riadh Ben Aissa’s habit of playing fast and loose with contracts in North Africa. As a reward for steering the Titanic into the iceberg, Mr. Duhaime is given a $4.9 million kiss-off.

2012: April. The RCMP raids SNC-Lavalin’s headquarters in Montreal – twice.

2012: April. The Globe & Mail reveals close ties between the Ben Aissa family and SNC-Lavalin’s business in Tunisia, including the use of family property and the hiring of a Philadelphia-based firm Ramla Benaissa Architects, which is owned by Mr. Ben Aissa’s sister. The firm was hired by SNC to plan a $275-million prison and also to rehabilitate lakes in the city of Benghazi, in eastern Libya.

2012: April. The northern Chicago suburb of Peotone, Illinois, remains embroiled in controversy regarding the awarding of a contract for the construction of a new airport to SNC-Lavalin. Governor Quinn and Congressman Jesse Jackson support the project,  but continue to be dogged by  questions about how the construction would be funded. Jackson has said that the $700 million project would be privately-funded by SNC-Lavalin, and has claimed that funding would be backed by the Canadian government. The government of Canada has denied this.  

2012: April. SNC-Lavalin persists in saying that Ms. Vanier was not legally contracted to the company, because the executives who employed her were acting outside of the company’s code of ethics. Morally suspect, and on a weak footing legally, SNC-Lavalin continues to strum the same tune while arguing that it is changing how it does business.

2012: April. Riadh Ben Aissa  is arrested in Switzerland and held on accusations of corrupting a public official, fraud and money laundering tied to his dealings in North Africa.

Canada is SNC-Lavalin’s back yard

Now, given that rather frightening accounting of human and corporate folly, you’d think that people would be a little gun-shy on the home front.  Three RCMP raids. Three executives let go. Tens of millions of dollars in wayward cash, possibly lost to bribes. Getting shut out by the World Bank.

This is Canada, after all, and SNC-Lavalin is a Canadian corporation. We do things right here. Canada ranks #10 as one of the “least corrupt” countries in the world.

But Libya, unfortunately, ranks #168 (a pre-revolutionary number, when the murderous Gaddafi regime was doling out cash to SNC-Lavalin and its friends). Tunisia, which was ruled by the horribly corrupt President Ben Ali, was ranked at #73, though it is worth remembering that it was here that street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi lit himself on fire and ignited the Arab Spring. India, where SNC-Lavalin got nailed in the 1990s, ranks a pathetic #95. Bangladesh, where SNC-Lavalin is now shut out from bidding due to the Padma Bridge project, ranks even worse, at #120.

That long and rather depressing list is intended to suggest that SNC-Lavalin may be able to peddle for cover abroad, but not on the home front.

After all, the fact that Gwyn Morgan, Chairman of the Board of SNC-Lavalin, is a long-time friend of Stephen Harper’s, surely has little effect on how both SNC-Lavalin and the Harper government have hung Cynthia Vanier out to dry.

Mr. Morgan is a Conservative party supporter and former fundraiser for the Conservative Party of Canada. In 2006 Stephen Harper unsuccessfully attempted to appoint Morgan as chair of a new public appointment commission. Opposition MPs objected, and Mr. Morgan was rejected, largely due to his close ties to the Conservative Party.

Also on SNC's list of board of directors is Honourable Hugh D. Segal, a conservative who moonlights as a senator in Ottawa, and who is seen by many as responsible for improving Mr. Harper’s image to make him more “electable”.

These and other board members were asleep at the wheel as former SNC-Lavalin CEO Duhaime overrode his own CFO and authorized $56 million of questionable payments to undisclosed agents, and as Mr. Roy, authorized by Mr. Ben Aissa, financed Ms. Vanier’s work in Libya. 
Duhaime - they loved him in the good times

That same board is still actively distancing itself from Ms. Vanier. This is a feeble position that only confirms SNC-Lavalin’s continued reluctance to assume any ethical responsibility for its actions.

That may not last for long.  The Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) recently published a Staff Notice, the result of almost a year’s work that outlines its concern related to Canadian companies active in emerging markets. That notice spoke directly to the corporate governance practices of boards.

Specifically, it asked for more transparency for underwriters, better controls on foreign auditors, and enhanced disclosure of risk factors. These actions need to be understood in the context of new corporate regulations such as the UK Bribery Act and the SEC Whistle-Blower Rule, as well as last year’s watershed  enforcement of Canada’s bribery statute.

In that case, Niko Resources pleaded guilty under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act in June, 2011, for bribing Bangladesh’s energy minister. Niko was fined C$9.5 million.

Specific to SNC-Lavalin, there could be more leaks to come with regard to fraud and bribery. These actions are rarely secret; almost always, employees other than the principal actors are aware. The problem, of course, is that there is little incentive to speak out, particularly when a lot of money is on the line.

The RCMP may have more work to do

In time, too, we will learn more about the company’s relationship with Ms. Vanier, who was paid $100,000, billed another $395,500, and had a retainer account of about $1 million with funds from SNC-Lavalin. If Ms. Vanier had no legal relationship with SNC-Lavalin, then one expects they would be charging her company, Vanier Consulting, with fraud. Odd, that hasn’t happened yet.

Incredibly, SNC-Lavalin’s behaviour has had little to no effect on its business in Canada. In fact, the company has been on a roll of late -

Some highlights:

2012: March. SNC-Lavalin is awarded the project management, engineering, procurement and construction management contract for Vale’s $2-billion Clean AER project in Sudbury.

2012: March. SNC-Lavalin, with its partner, the European-based construction group Cintra Infrastructures, lands a $1 billion contract to build and maintain Phase I of the eastern extension of the Highway 407 toll road from Pickering to Oshawa.

2012: March. As part of a joint venture with Aecon Industrial, SNC-Lavalin is given a major contract by Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to carry out the Definition Phase for the Darlington Retube and Feeder Replacement (RFR) Project. The total value of the Definition Phase is estimated at over $600 million.

2012: April. The Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence, announces a contract award for 2.5 million to a joint venture between SNC-Lavalin and Aecon Atlantic Group for the design of a new accommodation tower and dining and messing facilities at Canadian Forces Base Halifax.

2012: May. SNC-Lavalin is awarded a contract by AltaLink LP for work on portions of transmission infrastructure projects in Alberta. Industry analysts estimate the contract to be worth about $1.6 billion

As one loyal La politica reader emailed us to say: "Is there not an honest engineering company out there our government could start sleeping with?"

Apparently not.

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

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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Thursday 26 April 2012

The trouble with Christian Eduardo Esquino Nuñez

Christian Eduardo Esquino Nuñez, the lead witness in the case against Cynthia Vanier, is now out of his Mexican jail cell, and he is apparently threatening to expose secret voice and video recordings of Gregory Gillispie, the American who brokered the aircraft lease for Ms. Vanier to fly to Libya.

(For breaking news read Christian Eduardo Esquino Núñez’s crash landingChristian Eduardo Esquino Núñez to testify on Friday, Jenni Rivera pilots in violation of regulations - SCT on the hunt for Christian Eduardo Esquino Nuñez and Time to examine Jenni Rivera’s financial records).

Ms. Vanier, as anyone familiar with this blog knows, is the Canadian facing charges as the ringleader in a plot to smuggle Saadi Gaddafi, fallen Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s third son, from North Africa to Mexico,

Mr. Esquino Nuñez is a curious character. When La politica first became involved with the case regarding Cynthia Vanier, we visited Ms. Vanier’s parents on the shores of Lake Chapala, Mexico. One piece of information that was given to us at that time, and that seemed very odd, concerned the role of a married couple: “Bertha” and “Ed”.

Ms. Vanier’s parents did not know who these two individuals were. However, we were informed that Ed was a criminal, and that Bertha – the best friend of Gabby de Cueto (aka Gabriela Davila Huerta), who now shares a jail cell with Ms. Vanier in Chetumal, Mexico – might have planted the fake Mexican voting card on Ms. Vanier.

This card is a key piece of evidence in the case against Ms. Vanier, as it was on her person when she was arrested on November 10, 2011, and connects her to a false Mexican identity for one Cinthia Anne Macdonald Grau, who opened two bank accounts that were allegedly to be used to funnel cash into Mexico to support Mr. Gaddafi in his new life.

We now know that Bertha is Bertha Cruz de la Cruz, and Ed is her husband, Christian Eduardo Esquino Nuñez. Both these individuals are central to the prosecution’s case against Ms. Vanier and the three other defendants.

Those other defendants are: Ms. De Cueto, Mr. Gillispie’s business partner and Bertha’s best friend, who helped broker aircraft for Ms. Vanier; Pierre Flensborg, a jet-setting Dane who was a business associate of Ms. De Cueto’s; and José Luis Kennedy Prieto, known as a document forger, but who was also at one time a police commander of homicide squads in Mexico City and Hidalgo.

Bertha Cruz de la Cruz is relevant also because she allegedly received an email to her Gmail account from Gabby de Cueto’s Yahoo account that included an attached photocopy of Saadi Gaddafi’s passport, as well as references to his family members.

According to a statement Ms. Cruz de la Cruz gave to Mexican prosecutors, she queried Gabby de Cueto as to why she received the email, and Gabby then allegedly asked Bertha if she knew of anyone who could put together false documentation for Gaddafi, his wife, and their young son and daughter.

Ms. Cruz de la Cruz, law abiding citizen that she is, apparently told Mexican law enforcement that she further challenged Ms. De Cueto as to why she would be asking for that, as it could land them all in a boatload of trouble.

However, the most solid testimony against Cynthia Vanier may come from Mr. Esquino himself.

Mr. Esquino has told the Mexican government that during a 45 minute car ride on September 20 from Toluca, where Mr. Esquino kept the aircraft he leased, to Mexico City, Ms. De Cueto and her business partner Gregory Gillispie spoke of a plot to bring Saadi Gaddafi to Mexico.

This evidence was given by Mr. Esquino on January 9, 2012 – two months after Ms. Vanier and the others had been arrested, and almost four months after the alleged conversation.

In fact, that evidence was given to the Mexican authorities while Mr. Esquino was wanted in Mexico for aircraft fraud. Mr. Esquino was questioned twice by authorities about the Vanier case before he was arrested on March 17.

In Mexico, individuals can be detained for 80 days without charge. Mr. Esquino’s recent release suggests that Mexican authorities are holding off on criminal charges, perhaps because they consider him to be more valuable on the outside, from where he can assist them in building the case against Ms. Vanier and her co-accused.

A  plea, a short sentence, and deportation to Mexico

Mr. Esquino is no small time crook. On January 24, 2005 the Southern District Court of California convicted him of conspiracy to commit fraud involving an aircraft. Mr. Esquino had pled guilty, and was sentenced to two years in prison.

When he got out in 2007 he was deported to Mexico, whereupon he was arrested again, only to walk and assume the name “Ed Nuñez”. Nuñez is Mr. Esquino’s matronymic – his mother’s maiden name. Though in Mexico the matronymic is formally carried at the end of one’s name, it is rarely used exclusively. In effect, Mr. Christian Esquino had assumed another identity as Ed Nuñez without technically breaking the law.

Sources familiar with Mr. Esquino’s legal troubles in the United States have told La politica that the fraud charge was the low-hanging fruit – it was an easy conviction, which could then assure deportation upon his release.

But there were real victims. Court documents show Mr. Esquino bilked four parties out of a total of $435,000.00.

Mr. Esquino had an aircraft financing company, Wing Financial, which operated out of the same address as his better-known firm, Starwood Management, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Wing Financial, which employed both Mr. Esquino and his sister-in-law, Bertha’s sister Norma Gonzalez (aka Norma Cruz de la Cruz), was embroiled in financial and legal troubles before filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the State of Nevada on February 2, 2010.

Interestingly, Mr. Esquino’s sister-in-law was willing to take the fall: Norma Gonzales is named as a “Managing Member” on the petition, but Mr. Esquino is nowhere to be seen.

The trail of tears in this filing is long and soggy: ten plaintiffs, both businesses and individuals, claimed a total of $5,520,000.00 against Wing Financial. The real number is likely higher: two of the individuals placed unknown amounts, claiming assets that were “unliquidated disputed”.

One of the business plaintiffs was Pacific Coast Forecasting (the company was sold in March 2010), which was on the hook for $250,000.00. The company deserves some due for perseverance: ten months later, on December 2, 2010, Pacific Coast Forecasting placed a lien of just over $15,000 on Mr. Esquino’s other company, Starwood Management.

As well, on February 11, 2010, a man named Hugo Alvarez cited Norma Gonzalez, Wing Financial, and Christian Esquino as defendants in a suit regarding a property foreclosure in San Diego, California, where Mr. Esquino lived before his incarceration.

After Mr. Esquino’s release from prison he was not permitted into the United States. However, he appears to have continued to conduct business in the United States, and to be using his sister-in-law to front for him via Wing Financial, just as he used his wife Bertha to run the Mexican side of his aircraft leasing business while he was in prison north of the border.

Interestingly, on March 17, 2010, which was about a month after bankruptcy was declared, a temporary protective order was placed by Barnardo Cárdenas Cota on 13 aircraft owned by Wing Financial. Cárdenas Cota has been linked to the “loss” of ten million pesos (approximately $760,000) related to the construction of a sports complex in Los Mochis, a coastal city in nothern Sinaloa, Mexico.

 Esquino Nuñez enters the picture - and moves to the foreground

And as a curious aside, included in the 13 planes was a jet owned by Jasper Knabb, ex- Chief Executive Officer of Pegasus Wireless Corp. Wing Financial acted as the shell company that financed Mr. Knabb’s Gulfstream II. In July of last year Mr. Knabb pleaded guilty to securities fraud related to a $25 million scheme to sell shares for bad debt, with the proceeds then shunted over to Mr. Knabb, his family, and friends.

Mr. Esquino’s legal troubles are far from over, despite his release from jail in Mexico. He recently had two planes seized: one in Arizona, and the other in Monterrey, Mexico.

On April 18 his still-active US-based company, Starwood Management, filed suit against the United States Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration for forfeiture and penalties, presumably in the hopes of getting his plane back.

And now he is upping the ante by promising more damning evidence against Mr. Gillispie.

What is he doing?

In La politica’s opinion, he is promising the Mexican authorities he can deliver them a conviction, in the hopes of buying his freedom.

This is a huge case in Mexico. President Cardenas himself has put the credibility of his administration on the line, having claimed that the arrest of Ms. Vanier and others is proof that Mexico, the United States, and Canada have a successful security partnership.

We don’t yet know the whole truth of how this alleged plot saw the light of day, but one thing is certain: the cat is out of the bag, and now it must be fed.

(NB – No information on this blog post derives from interviews with individuals in Mexico, including the defence team, which has yet to depose Mr. Esquino. This content is based exclusively on third parties outside of Mexico, court documents, and La politica’s own investigations.)

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

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

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Tuesday 24 April 2012

Cynthia Vanier’s Anonymous problem

The case against Cynthia Vanier, the Canadian conflict mediator accused by Mexican authorities of plotting to smuggle Saadi Gaddafi to Mexico, rests largely on leaks allegedly from the Internet hacking group “Anonymous”.

As La politica’s Timothy Wilson wrote in the Globe & Mail, the leaked information may not stand in court, because it cannot be traced. There is more to be said about the evidence itself – specifically on email intercept technology and whether or not Ms. Vanier’s company, Vanier Consulting, had a designated server or not – but La politica is holding off on that for now.

Suffice to say that on the surface the evidence is damning, but it also appears to be inadmissible in court. This is the problem with “Anonymous” – anybody can rip off the logo and raise hell.

From the fax sent to Mexican authorities on November 5, 2011

At the time of Ms. Vanier’s arrest in Mexico City on November 10, 2011, Anonymous was in a high-stakes pissing match with the ultra-violent Zetas drug cartel, threatening to release 25,000 government emails that named Zetas members unless a kidnapped Anonymous member was released.

Back then, the media reports were conflicting, and to this day we are not sure what the outcome was.  On November 2, 2011, Britain’s Guardian newspaper indicated that Anonymous had pulled back. Then between the 4th and the 8th victory was being announced.

But the alleged kidnap victim was never named, and there has been no confirmation as to what really happened. At the time Anonymous’s spokesman was the Dallas-based hackitvist and sometime heroin user Barrett Brown. (There has been plenty of coverage of Mr. Brown, but the best interview is a year old and can be found in D Magazine).

Mr. Brown was actively involved in Anonymous support for the Arab Spring, but, despite his previous involvement with the Mexican government emails and the alleged kidnapping of a member of Anonymous by Los Zetas, he claims no knowledge of the leaks with regard to Cynthia Vanier.

“I'm actually not familiar with this case or those e-mails,” he told La politica.

It has also been pointed out to La politica that if this were the “real” Anonymous, the group would be a little more attentive to how it spelled its name. In the evidence seen by La politica Anonymous is spelled variously as “anonimous” (from the senders email address) and “Anonymus Group” (from a fax).

“They misspelled anonymous,” Greg Gillispie, who helped broker aircraft for Ms. Vanier, told La politica in an interview. “It didn’t come from the Anonymous group, because they know how to spell their own name.”

However, both spellings are occasionally in use.  “Anonymus” is actually the Latin spelling of anonymous and, according to the esteemed Wikipedia, “is traditionally used by scholars in the humanities to refer to any ancient writer whose name is not known, or to a manuscript of their work.”  “Anonymus” is also a defunct metal band from Quebec.

Then there is the YouTube post “anonimous amenaza a felipe calderon” (anonymous threat to Felipe Calderon), referring to Mexico’s incumbent president, but even they get trashed in the comments section for not being able to spell. And, as further proof that spelling is fluid, “Anonimous 1495” was an unnamed maker of viols from 1485 to the beginning of 1500.

Of course, it could just be an English spelling mistake because the leakers are Spanish-speaking members of "Anonymous Group Iberoamérica",

Finding the source of the Anonymous evidence is crucial to determining who is behind the plot – whether real, or whether as a frame job. What seems evident is that the source is Spanish-speaking (unless that too is a feint).

Judging by the email “vectors” in the hacked evidence, there are central players who are implicated in the leaks. These individuals are also crucial to proving the government’s case, but are about as trustworthy as Baron Münchhausen.

More on them in our next post.

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

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

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Tuesday 17 April 2012

Loren Berenda, Greg Gillispie, Cynthia Vanier, SNC-Lavalin...And the curse of the NDA

In the ongoing effort to find out the truth with regard to the alleged plot to smuggle Saadi Gaddafi – fallen Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s third son – and his family from North Africa to Mexico, non-disclosure agreements, or “NDAs”, have kept people's mouths shut.

They have also let speculation run rampant. Why? Because NDAs can be so rigorous they might result in serious legal implications if they are even mentioned.

We have known since this story broke that Cynthia Vanier, through her company Vanier Consulting, was contracted by the Canadian engineering giant SNC-Vanier to conduct a fact finding mission in Libya last July.

We know that she also intended to do further work for SNC-Lavalin – which had booked hundreds of millions of dollars in business with Libya’s Gaddafi regime – to address possible employee re-integration when the dust settled.

And we have always known that a lot of money was being spent on airplanes.

How much money did SNC-Lavalin pay Ms. Vanier? Sorry, that’s still a secret. The reason for not saying appears to be twofold: it is part of Ms. Vanier’s defense strategy, and the information may be under an NDA.

However, perhaps given that SNC-Lavalin has taken an extreme, and surely indefensible, position – namely that Vanier Consulting had no contract with the company because the executive who signed the agreement, controller Stephane Roy, was acting outside its code of ethics – Ms. Vanier has decided to be more forthcoming.

We know now, courtesy of the CBC, that Vanier Consulting had a retainer account in which SNC-Lavalin deposited more than $1 million. We also know – thanks partially to Greg Gillispie, who handled the plane contracts, but now also via Ms. Vanier – that a nine month, $3 million aircraft leasing deal was in the works.

If this information had been revealed at the outset, it would have eased speculation, which has now been ramping for five months, as to where Ms. Vanier was getting all the money to cover the cost of private jets.

As it stands, the damage is done, with the Mexicans now theorizing that Ms. Vanier may have been financed by other sources, too.

Non disclosure agreements - less information, more suspicion

The same is true for Greg Gillispie. Mr. Gillispie has told La politica that he was working on a deal to supply close protection for a Mexican politician and his family, and that this arrangement has been confused by the Mexican authorities with the alleged plan to move Saadi, his wife, and two young children to the St. Regis hotel in Mexico City.

“This was also obviously one of the times where NDAs were put in place,” Mr. Gillispie told La politica.   “Both for the protection of us and even more so for the individual who was seeking our help.  Obviously he does not want anyone down there to know that he can't even trust his own government to provide adequate security for his family who was at the time living in the States.” 

La politica and others have also sought comment from Loren Berenda. Mr. Berenda ran Envoy Expeditionary Service, a small company that apparently employed only himself and his wife.  He was the person whom Cynthia Vanier first contacted when looking for aircraft and close protection. He also travelled with her on her fact finding trip to North Africa in July, 2011.

But Mr. Berenda, it seems, is also constrained by an NDA.

“Your work is comprehensive,” Mr. Berenda told La politica in an email.   “However, I am not in the position to make expanded statements in fear that any individual comment might disrupt ongoing domestic or international investigations and/or violate Non Disclosure Agreements between me and various entities. “

The discussion of NDAs can make journalism difficult, and can make it hard for people like Mr. Gillispie, Mr. Berenda, and Ms. Vanier, to defend themselves. However, it can also be used as an excuse, and is certainly no barrier to a police investigation. Nor can an NDA be used as a vehicle to avoid legal liability if crimes are committed.

To attempt to determine how all this works in Canada, La politica reached out to the RCMP.  

David Falls, a Media Relations Officer with the RCMP, made the following statement:

Further to our conversation yesterday, the existence and contents of a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) between private parties might come to the attention of the police through several ways:

* If the NDA is provided to the RCMP by anyone, we can collect it.

* If the parties tell us "we have an NDA", we can note this.

* If the NDA is held in private files where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in the circumstances, a search warrant can be used to enter private premises to obtain it, if the NDA is relevant to the investigation of a criminal offence.

* If the NDA is in the custody of a third party and we need to get a copy of it for our investigation of a criminal offence, we can request a Production Order under CC section 487.012 if the third party will not routinely provide us with it.

These represent reasonable limits to search and seizure, which are easily overcome by a police force with an interest in determining the facts of a relationship. As well, it is La politica’s understanding that an individual could not hide from the police whether or not he or she had an NDA, or whomever it was with.

Which is to say, under questioning the police could determine whether or not a person had an NDA, and then with whom. From there, they could get a search warrant to secure access.

Given the heat that is now being put on SNC-Lavalin, with the RCMP raiding its offices in Montreal, one might assume that the truth will come out, because any NDA resident in those offices is now in their hands, assuming it didn't hit the shredder long ago.

The RCMP’s glacial response has made this a much more difficult nut to crack, with SNC-Lavalin’s departed executive VP, Mr. Riadh Ben Aïssa, who was Stephane Roy’s boss and who is implicated in $56 million in undocumented payments, having now apparently made good his escape from Canada, and cooling his heels in his home town of Tunis, Tunisia.

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

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

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Saturday 7 April 2012

Mexico adds Stephane Roy, Gary Peters, and Mahmoud Razwan to list of suspects in Gaddafi case

(N.B. The piece written below was taken off reports from the Mexican press, and appears to represent the current thinking within Mexico's Attorney General's office. Ms. Vanier's defense has yet to present all of its evidence. It has always been La politica's understanding that SNC-Lavalin was the sole source of revenue for Ms. Vanier's work related to Libya. No evidence has yet been presented to prove otherwise).

The list of suspects being considered by Mexico’s federal attorney general’s office in the alleged plot to smuggle Saadi Gaddafi – fallen Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s third son – out of North Africa to Mexico now includes the Canadian and former SNC-Lavalin executive Stephane Roy,  as well as Gary Peters and Mahmoud Razwan, both of whom are permanent residents of Canada.

As well, the Mexican authorities believe that funding from the Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin alone was not sufficient to finance the operation. They are looking at at least two other un-named financiers: one a Canadian, and another a Libyan. These financiers are seen as potential investors – a successful extraction was to have profited those who financially supported the endeavour.

At present the Mexican authorities have four people in custody: the Canadian Cynthia Vanier, accused of being the financial coordinator of the plot; José Luis Kennedy Prieto, a Mexican national accused of document forgery; the Dane Pierre Christian Flensborg; and the Mexican Gabriela Dávila Huerta (also known as Gabby de Cueto).  Flensborg and Dávila Huerta were allegedly involved in organizing transportation.

The Mexican Christian Eduardo Esquino Núñez, who provided the aircraft for Ms. Vanier through his leasing company in Toluca, west of Mexico City, is being detained on fraud charges. Mr. Esquino Núñez previously served prison time in the United States and was extradited back to Mexico upon his release. He is considered a key witness in the case.

Stephane Roy was Cynthia Vanier’s contact at SNC-Lavalin, which had close ties to the Muammar Gaddafi regime, and particularly with Saadi Gaddafi. Mr. Roy paid Ms. Vanier’s consulting firm $100,000 for her fact-finding trip to Libya in July, 2011. Mr. Roy was with Gabriela Davila Huerta in Mexico City when she was arrested on November 11th at the St. Regis hotel – the day after Cynthia Vanier was arrested, also in Mexico City.

New Zealand-born Gary Peters, Saadi Gaddafi’s body guard, has been resident in Canada since 2002. He claims to have moved Saadi Gaddafi to the border with Niger in early September, 2011.  The younger Gaddafi then crossed into Niger, where he remains to this day.

 Saadi Gaddafi is now in Niger

Mahmoud Razwan, of the Canadian Libyan friendship Association, is an insurance broker in Windsor, Ontario. He was briefly appointed caretaker of the Libyan embassy on Ottawa after the collapse of the Gaddafi regime, and accompanied Ms. Vanier on her trip to Libya.

It should be noted that though the Mexican authorities have named these individuals as suspects, the Mexicans do not appear yet to have enough evidence to present an extradition request to the Canadian authorities.

The Mexican authorities believe that Ms. Vanier’s July trip was actually an extraction attempt, and that a second was being planned. If so, then the second attempt would have been from Niger. This would have been a difficult operation, given that Mr. Gaddafi was under house arrest and wanted by Interpol at the time. Mr. Peters, who apparently had a falling out with Ms. Vanier and SNC-Lavalin after the July trip, is only implicated in the first alleged attempt.

The Mexicans are holding to their theory that Saadi Gaddafi was to be relocated to a coastal resort in Nayarit, Mexico, north of Puerto Vallarta, though they no longer believe that Ms. Vanier’s property in La Cruz was to be a safe house. They also believe that a 2,000,000 peso ($154,000) down payment on a condominium in the swanky St. Regis apartment hotel complex, on Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City, was for Mr. Gaddafi.

The Mexican attorney general’s office has pushed the plot back to around the time of the Arab spring in 2011 – before Ms. Vanier is known to have begun her relationship with SNC-Lavalin.  Ms. Vanier signed her contract with SNC-Lavalin at the end of June, 2011. Her first contact with Mr. Razwan is believed to have been in April, 2011.

Also named as suspects by the Mexican authorities are Gregory Gillispie, Michael Boffo, and Loren Berenda. Mr. Gillispie and Mr. Boffo were business partners, and helped broker the aircraft and possibly personnel out of Mexico for Ms. Vanier via two companies: Veritas Worldwide Security, which offered training to military and security personnel; and GG Global Holdings, which was used exclusively for brokering and leasing aircraft.

It was Mr. Berenda, also known as “LR”, who was first approached by Cynthia Vanier. Mr. Berenda and Mr. Boffo are both former employees of private military contractor DynCorp.

La politica has been in touch with Mr. Gillispie and Mr. Boffo. The two men strenuously assert their innocence.

“Calderon took a personal interest in this case as soon as it broke and he is trying to capitalize on it to the max,” Mr. Gillispie told La politica in an email exchange. “My guess is that as soon as the elections go in July and Calderon is on his way out then suddenly it'll be decided that the evidence isn't enough to hold them anymore and they'll quietly be released.”

Mr. Boffo, who now works for the security consultancy Pax Mondial in Afghanistan, was even blunter in his assessment –  

“I do not know anything about this,” he told La politica. "GG Global simply leased Vanier Consulting a plane.”

The Mexican authorities are also looking at Belend Salih Alqassab, a resident of the United States, and Roger Lanoue, an American of Haitian origin who has served in the US Navy. These two men were part of a security detail that included the Romanian Cristenelm Giurgea Nelu and Barrie Rice, a former member of Special Forces in New Zealand. According to flight logs, Mr. Giurgea Nelu and Mr. Rice joined Ms. Vanier’s group when it arrived in Pristina, Kosovo, en route to North Africa.

Mr. Rice accompanied Ms. Vanier on a trip to Mexico City in late September, 2011. The Mexican attorney General’s office says this was to plan for a second attempt. However, Mr. Gillispie, who along with Mr. Flensborg and Ms. Davila Huerta met with Ms. Vanier and Mr. Rice in Mexico City at that around time, has asserted that the purpose of the trip and meeting was to discuss a dispute over payment for aircraft.

The security detail for the Libya trip was led by Mr. Peters and also included Loren Berenda. At $1,000 to $1,500 a day for six people, the detail would come in at $6,000- $9,000. For a 10 day trip, security personal alone would then cost $60,000 - $90,000.

Given that planes were many hundreds of thousands of dollars more – La politica believes that Vanier Consulting paid at least $400,000 in aircraft – and Vanier Consulting only successfully invoiced SNC-Lavalin $100,000, the possibility of secondary or “shadow” sponsors looms large.

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

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

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Tuesday 3 April 2012

Mexican president Felipe Calderon politicizes Cynthia Vanier case during White House summit

During a press conference on the White House lawn on April 2nd Mexican President Felipe Calderon referenced the arrest of Canadian Cynthia Vanier in an alleged plot to smuggle fallen Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi’s third son, Saadi, and his family from North Africa to Mexico.

Standing alongside United States President Barrack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Mr. Calderon made the following statement:

“The security of North America is absolutely tied to each of its member states. There cannot be full security in this country or in Canada or in Mexico if we do not have a system that actually enables the cooperation mechanisms to act in facing threats that have no borders and that are transnational by their very nature, and these are the threats that are not just tied into drug trafficking which is transnational, of course.”

This then set up a dramatic declaration providing clear evidence that the trial against Ms. Vanier has become heavily politicized. In the context of the above statement, Mr. Calderon then said:

“And I’ll give you two examples of success stories I was mentioning this morning. One, the attempt to take to Mexico one of the children of Gaddafi, one of Gaddafi’s children. This implied an international and very North American operation, because it was headed up by a Canadian business woman, who hired an American company, which hired in turn Mexican pilots and counterfeiters, and this multinational operation could have been – would not have been avoided without international security mechanisms that we didn’t have before and now we have. Also, being able to avoid the assassination of the Saudi ambassador here in Washington would not have been possible without the mechanisms of cooperation we have today.”

Calderon's statments: no comment from Obama or Harper

Mr. Calderon failed to mention that none of the four individuals imprisoned in Mexico and facing charges with regard to the alleged Gaddafi plot had been found guilty of any crime. He states very clearly that the plan was “headed up by a Canadian business woman”.

Strangely, Mr. Calderon’s argument that the supposed plot is uniquely North American does not seem to carry much weight with his peers in the United States and Canada, despite his grand-standing in Washington.

If it did, then the United States would have filed charges against the American Greg Gillispie, who helped broker the plane deal for Cynthia Vanier to fly to North Africa. And Cynthia Vanier herself, who handled all the money for the alleged operation through her Canadian business, would surely now be wanted by the RCMP.

Instead, the RCMP has yet to file any charges against Ms. Vanier – despite an investigation that has now gone on for months.

Mr. Calderon went on to say –

“So thinking that what happens in Mexico doesn’t have anything to do with the security of the citizens of this country, or any other citizen of North America, is a mistake. We have to understand that we are all tied to one another. Now, security understood in the regional sense in order to understand that, we have to understand where the greatest threats to security actually lay.”

For his part, Prime Minister Harper’s silence on the matter only served as passive acceptance that what Mr. Calderon said was true.

But if it is true, then the Canadian government should be actively pursuing the financiers and intellectual authors of the crime, who would not be Cynthia Vanier. As La politica has previously reported, Ms. Vanier was receiving far more for her work than the $100,000 successfully invoiced to the Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin.

These additional monies, which included hundreds of thousands of dollars for private jets, and many tens of thousands of dollars for personal security details, would have had to have come directly from either SNC-Lavalin or a secondary sponsor.

If what Mr. Calderon says is true, then why are his neighbours not discussing the matter, or building their own cases?

What seems obvious is that Mr. Calderon has now placed much of his diminished political capital on Cynthia Vanier staying in a Mexican prison. The chances of a fair judicial process before the July 1st presidential election, and perhaps even before Mr. Calderon’s official departure on December 1st, are much harder to come by now that Mr. Calderon has stated in such a high profile press conference that the arrest of Cynthia Vanier is one of the great successes of his administration.

To see a video of the comments made by Mr. Calderon, with English translation, go here.

(N.B. The mainstream press completely missed this story. The Globe and Mail, after being in contact with La politica, ran with this post.)

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

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

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