SNC-Lavalin pulls back from Cyndy Vanier Mexico connection

Canadian engineering giant SNC-Lavalin says it never authorized any "contracts or dealings" with Cyndy Vanier, a Canadian jailed in Mexico on accusations she led a plot to smuggle members of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi's family into the country.

Ontario woman accused in plot to smuggle Gadhafi family members into Mexico

A pedestrian walks past the SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., headquarters in Montreal on May 7, 2009. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

Canadian engineering giant SNC-Lavalin is now distancing itself from a Canadian woman jailed in Mexico.

The company says it "never authorized any contracts or dealings" with Cyndy Vanier, who stands accused of masterminding a criminal plot to smuggle members of Libya's Gadhafi family into Mexico.

Cyndy Vanier has been held without charge in Mexico since Nov. 10 on accusations she led a plot to smuggle members of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi's family into the country.

Despite contracts made public by Vanier's lawyer showing agreements between Vanier and SNC-Lavalin controller Stephane Roy, SNC-Lavalin lawyers wrote that her work had been "requested by employees acting outside the scope of their normal duties with the company."

Both Roy and his boss Riadh Ben Aïssa, an executive vice-president who ran SNC-Lavalin's construction division, resigned last week amid turmoil prompted by Vanier's plight.

CBC News has learned from insiders that the company is also conducting an audit of the financial actions of those two executives. Its lawyers have admitted the company is also reviewing "all payments that were made to Mrs. Vanier" and her consulting company.

Vanier was hired by Roy to conduct a "fact-finding" mission last July in the war-torn country, where SNC-Lavalin has just over a thousand employees and billions of dollars of business. It was the realm of Ben Aïssa, one of SNC-Lavalin's top executives and a close associate of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s sons, including Saadi, whom Vanier is accused of trying to smuggle into Mexico.

Ben Aïssa's spokesman, Frederic Lepage, released a statement to CBC News saying his client "had a clear mandate from the company of securing SNC-Lavalin's 4,500 employees' lives and reducing the company's financial exposure in a country torn apart by a civil war. All his work was done in the best interest of SNC-Lavalin, within the scope of his normal duties with the company."

Mexican officials are investigating an alleged plot to smuggle Saadi Gadhafi, son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, and his family to Mexico. (Abdel Magid al-Fergany/Associated Press)

"In order to assist with this difficult mandate, Cynthia Vanier's firm was retained to produce reports, which included recommendations on how to secure the reintegration of SNC-Lavalin's employees back into the country under the new interim government.

"Riadh Ben Aïssa was never aware of, nor did he ever provide any mandate to anyone at any time in relation with the movement of the members of the Ghadafi family to Mexico or to anywhere else in the world."

Vanier's lawyer, Paul Copeland, echoed Ben Aïssa's stance, saying it's ludicrous for SNC-Lavalin to say these employees were acting outside the interests of the company.

"At that point [Roy] was a fully authorized employee of SNC and entitled to do whatever he was doing for them.

"It's a retrospective view that they now say he was a rogue."

Copeland released documents showing that Vanier had amended her contract with SNC-Lavalin at the summer's end, and was in frequent contact with Roy, and was planning to meet him in Mexico Nov. 11, but was arrested the day before.

Roy went ahead and met with at least one of Vanier's co-accused, Gabriela D'Avila Huerta, and was present when Huerta was arrested.

A Mexican newspaper reports that an assistant federal attorney dealing with the case, Cuitlahuac Salinas, announced this week in Mexico City that Roy is among five new suspects.

SNC-Lavalin is refusing to pay a $395,500 bill that Vanier, a small-time consultant from Mount Forest, Ont., submitted in late October.

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The new statement by SNC-Lavalin's lawyer that the company did not have any "contracts or dealings" comes despite Vanier already being paid $113,000 as a retainer. The payment was acknowledged by SNC-Lavalin corporate spokesperson Leslie Quinton in a Jan. 26 email to CBC News stating, "Her company was paid for services rendered under the fact-finding mission and SNC-Lavalin has had no further mandates with her or her company, for any purpose."

Vanier wrote a second pitch dated Sept. 21, 2011, that was newly obtained by CBC News, which offered SNC-Lavalin extensive advice on dealing with employees evacuated from the war zone and on how best to get them back into Libya.

Last week a number of company insiders came forward to CBC News, speaking on condition of anonymity, demanding their bosses explain SNC-Lavalin's role in the Mexico scandal and why it is now disavowing any connection to Vanier despite her work for the company. Later that day, Roy and Ben Aïssa resigned.