One of the people accused in an alleged plot to smuggle members of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s family to Mexico was with an SNC-Lavalin executive when police took her into custody, CBC News has learned.
According to a spokeswoman for the Canadian engineering firm, Stephane Roy — who oversaw billions of dollars worth of projects in Libya — was present in Mexico City on the invitation of Canadian Cyndy Vanier, one of the accused in the case. Roy met with Gabriela Davila Huerta, another of the accused, on Nov. 11 when she was arrested.
Leslie Quinton, SNC-Lavalin vice-president of global corporate communications, confirmed in an email that Roy "was present when the other person [Huerta] was detained and was asked the purpose of his visit by the authorities, which he stated was the possibility of water treatment projects."
Quinton went on to say that as far as the company knows, Roy "underwent no further questioning" by Mexican police and has not been charged with any criminal offence.
Vanier, who set up the meeting that Roy and Huerta attended, has been jailed since she was taken into custody on Nov. 10. She along with two Mexicans and a Danish citizen are all accused of a list of offences including attempted human trafficking, involvement in organized crime and falsification of documents.
Mexican prosecutors say Vanier was caught Nov. 10 with a forged Mexican voting card — a common form of identification in Mexico — along with a Canadian passport. Officials also say they seized a fake Mexican passport and a doctored birth certificate in her name.
Vanier’s father says it’s all a frame-up.
"There was identity theft here, and someone was trying to set her up" by planting the forged voter’s card, John MacDonald told CBC News in a telephone interview from Mexico.
Earlier statement from SNC-Lavalin
The revelation that Roy was in Mexico City for meetings set up by Vanier flies in the face of statements SNC initially made to CBC News last week in which the company flatly denied any involvement with Vanier.
"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," Quinton wrote in an email on Jan. 26.
However, the company changed its story on Jan. 31.
"Stephane Roy advised SNC-Lavalin that he was invited to Mexico by Ms. Vanier to discuss potential water treatment projects in Mexico," Quinton wrote to CBC News. "Our records indicate he was in Mexico on November 11 and 12."
CBC News has confirmed that Roy was with Huerta when police moved in.
"Mr. Roy has reported that he went to Mexico to meet with Ms. Vanier to discuss possible water treatment projects but was met by someone else. He reported he was present when the other person was detained and was asked the purpose of his visit by the authorities, which he stated was the possibility of water treatment projects, and to our knowledge, underwent no further questioning," Quinton said in an email late Thursday.
"We understand that there was no charge placed against him nor, to our knowledge, is he under investigation now."
In addition, SNC-Lavalin documents from August 2011 after Vanier’s trip to Libya show Roy asked Vanier to continue advising the company on the changing political situation that had forced the company to evacuate many of its 1,000 employees from Libya.
In October, Vanier submitted an invoice requesting payment of $395,000 — in addition to a retainer of $113,000 she had already been paid — for what she termed "consulting, training and Risk Policy Deployment Implementation Employee Re-Integration Project."
SNC-Lavalin refused to make the additional payment, and in December, while Vanier sat in a Mexican jail, Roy sent an email to her company — according to documents supplied to CBC News by Vanier’s lawyer — in which Roy says: "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."
Vanier’s lawyer insists the work has been done and is now part of a dispute with SNC-Lavalin over the contested $395,500.
SNC-Lavalin ties to Saadi Gadhafi
SNC-Lavalin has spent more than a decade in Libya constructing water projects, a prison and an airport in deals worth billions of dollars. The company acknowledges it has had close business dealings with Saadi Gadhafi, the son of the former dictator, and has in the past paid for many of his bills, including hotels, security and transportation when he travelled to Canada in 2008.
"For certain diplomatic guests, we provide complete hospitality and other services as needed," Quinton said in a statement last December, pointing out that in 2008 Canada had an embassy in Tripoli and many Canadian companies were working in Libya.
'It was a propaganda war for sure!' —Gary Peters, former bodyguard to Saadi Gadhafi
In July 2011, amid NATO bombing and all out war in Libya, SNC-Lavalin paid to fly Vanier and an entourage to the region for a "fact-finding mission" on the basis it would supply them updates on its projects and the conditions for its employees — most of whom had fled.
But according to Gary Peters, whom Vanier hired for security during the trip, the mission had a second purpose. Peters, who for years had worked as a bodyguard for Saadi Gadhafi, acknowledged Vanier was used as a "dupe."
The idea for the mission was his in the service of his boss, Peters told CBC News. He said he invited Vanier to lead the trip, and suggested she approach SNC-Lavalin to fund it in hopes she would visit and draft a report to present a pro-Gadhafi side to the conflict.
"It was a propaganda war for sure!" he said. "Look at CNN, BBC, all that kind of people. It was always bad, bad, bad, always anti-Gadhafi, anti-Gadhafi, anti-Gadhafi," said Peters, who admits that while he provided security for Vanier during her July visit to Libya, at night he would sneak out to meet with Saadi Gadhafi.
Vanier prepared a report documenting alleged "atrocities" involving NATO bombs and rebel fighters, which she delivered to SNC-Lavalin and to CANADEM, an agency funded by Foreign Affairs. While SNC-Lavalin praised the report, indicating it confirmed what its employees had been telling them, it was dismissed as biased by many in Ottawa who read it. Peters said Saadi Gadhafi was upset the report never received widespread attention in Western media as intended.
Crossed border into Libya
According to Peters, in late August 2011 as the Gadhafi regime was losing control of the country, SNC-Lavalin paid to fly him to Tunisia, hosting him at meetings at their offices there, as Peters staged an "extraction mission" to enter Libya to assist Saadi Gadhafi to flee.
In early September, Peters crossed the border into Libya and joined an armed convoy helping Saadi Gadhafi flee Tripoli, the capital. However, Peters insists, he only accompanied Gadhafi as far as the border with Niger and so never broke any international travel bans.
"They [SNC-Lavalin] paid air transportation there and back, and accommodation whilst in Tunisia," said Peters, who said he raced to get there in time believing Saadi Gadhafi was set to flee Libya in late August.
While in Tunisia, Peters said, he met with SNC-Lavalin’s top executive in Africa, Riadh Ben Aissa, though he says his salary for the extraction mission was not paid by SNC-Lavalin. Ben Aissa has refused to answer questions about whether he was aware Peters intended to help the Gadhafis flee Libya in violation of United Nations travel bans.
"I can not answer this question. Call our company, sorry," he said before hanging up his cellphone on Thursday.
In a statement Wednesday, SNC-Lavalin’s Leslie Quinton refused to address why the company would host Saadi Gadhafi’s bodyguard during the intensified NATO bombing and rebel advances on Tripoli.
"Mr. Peters went to Tunis to meet company officials, but the meeting did not result in any contract or business arrangement between SNC-Lavalin and Mr. Peters. SNC-Lavalin … would not sanction an attempt at an extraction mission or any other action that would contravene local or international laws or regulations."
Quinton maintains SNC-Lavalin has been in a very difficult position given the regime change in Libya, after years of co-operating and forming relationships with the dictatorship. "The perception has changed now because of recent events, but it was totally different prior to the conflict," she said in a statement issued in December.
CBC News asked SNC-Lavalin whether any of its officials continue to have contact with members of the Gadhafi regime, or whether any of its employees have participated in any plans to move Saadi Gadhafi or his family out of the country.
In an email response late Thursday, the company stated:
"SNC-Lavalin does not and would not condone any action that contravenes any local or international laws or regulations. There has been no official business done on behalf of SNC-Lavalin with any member of the Gadhafi family since the interim Libyan government has been in power."
CBC News has made numerous requests for interviews with SNC-Lavalin, but the company has repeatedly refused, issuing only short emailed statements.