Canadian mediator Cyndy Vanier, arrested in Mexico one year ago this week, was recently released from hospital following abdominal surgery and is back in her prison cell in Chetumal, Mexico, along the border with Belize.
Vanier says doctors conducted surgery in early October, originally to remove a suspected tumour or ovarian cyst. But she says they discovered additional internal problems, which she claims stem from a violent blow from a Mexican police officer following her arrest on Nov. 10, 2011.
Vanier is accused of masterminding a plot to smuggle members of Libya’s Gadhafi family into Mexico.
During her arrest, Vanier says, she was "struck in the right side by an elbow" from one of the Mexican PGR officers while being transported to a holding area.
"But what [the doctors] are saying is that that impact pushed my intestines to the left side of my body so they weren’t functioning properly," Vanier told CBC News in a telephone interview from Chetumal. That, she claims, was causing all her pain and infections.
Loses legal challenge
Vanier spent the last month recovering while under guard in a windowless, but air-conditioned room at Clinica Carranza, a private hospital in Chetumal. A reprieve from the heat, her stay in hospital afforded her a more sterile environment as well as a small TV set and the constant company of her husband.
She says she is feeling better and is now focusing on her upcoming "audiences" before a judge, which constitute the trial stage on four charges she is facing. She is accused of heading a criminal organization also involving three co-accused that allegedly forged passports and planned unsuccessfully to smuggle Saadi Gadhafi, a son of Libya's former dictator Moammar Gadhafi, to a secret safe house near Puerto Vallarta — contrary to Mexican law, a United Nations travel ban and an international arrest warrant.
"It’s just not possible," Vanier told CBC News, maintaining her position from an exclusive interview she granted CBC News in April. "There is no evidence to demonstrate that I had anything to do with trying to illegally move anybody anywhere."
Vanier remains optimistic a trial judge will throw out several charges against her, given two of her co-accused have already seen all but the charge of human trafficking dropped. She expects to have hearings over the next two months and says the judge could rule on her guilt or innocence as early as March.
However, Vanier and her lawyers this past month lost one legal challenge (similar to a pretrial motion). A judge rejected her attempt to have her charges dismissed based on claims of problems with the evidence and allegations authorities violated her legal and human rights, deprived her of a translator and timely consular help.
"I’m pretty angry about it," Vanier declared.
If she had proper access to a translator and shared information, she insists, she would have been home a year ago. Instead, she says, Canadian and Mexican authorities have a lot to answer for.
Vanier was hired in the summer of 2011 by two top executives with Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin to travel to Libya for a fact-finding mission, and then to consult on conditions in the war-torn country.
Vanier has shown CBC News some bank records, signed contracts with SNC-Lavalin, and millions of dollars in private airplane charter contracts that she says were to help the company with "employee reintegration" once the conflict subsided.
1 SNC-Lavalin exec jailed
However, the two SNC employees she worked for who were in charge of Libya operations (Riadh Ben Aissa, executive vice-president of construction, and Stéphane Roy, vice-president controller) have since been the subject of numerous investigations and were forced to resign.
The company, which last spring called in the RCMP, has distanced itself from the two, claiming Roy and Ben Aissa’s hiring of Vanier was not "authorized."
Ben Aissa, who had close business ties with Saadi Gadhafi, was arrested in April in Switzerland, where he remains locked up, held on suspicion of fraud, corrupting a public official and money laundering tied to his dealings in North Africa — though he has not yet been formally charged.
When asked by CBC News whether she has any questions for Ben Aissa given his arrest, Vanier maintains her work for SNC-Lavalin was legitimate.
"It has nothing to do with what’s happened here!" Vanier insists. "I have a contract issue with SNC, which I will deal with upon my return, but as far as having a connection to that situation, there is absolutely no connection."
Vanier is suing the National Post newspaper and her former security guard, Gary Peters, claiming errors in a series of stories about her "fact-finding mission" to Libya precipitated her arrest by authorities in Mexico.
The newspaper and Peters stand by their statements and are fighting Vanier’s suit.