Former clients of accused B.C. con man want him deported
Syrian Mohammed Wanli has refugee protection despite criminal activity
"It's infuriating," former client Dan Krug said. "He has cost so many of us so much money and nobody [in Ottawa] does anything about it."
Selina Pechlaner-Krug, Dan Krug's daughter, said: "It causes a lot of stress for families. People like him should not be allowed to have this effect on people."
Syrian-born Mohammed Wanli, 50, arrived in Vancouver from the United States 11 years ago. He was convicted of four counts of theft in 2004, for which he was sentenced to probation. He has since been charged with 11 counts of theft, one of fraud and one of forgery, and 37 civil lawsuits have been filed against him. He also has a lengthy criminal record from his time in the U.S.
Wanli is currently being held in custody while he awaits trial. No trial date has been set.
After Wanli arrived in Vancouver, he was declared a refugee, and his accusers want that decision revisited.
Jose Medina, who hired Wanli to help him get a Canadian work permit, said: "He doesn't hurt you physically but he hurts you financially, he hurts you emotionally and at a personal level."
Wanli advertised in the Yellow Pages, under the business name "ATO," as a divorce specialist, an immigration consultant, a private detective and a property manager, among other things. He posed as a lawyer, which he is not, until the Law Society of B.C. got a court order telling him to stop.
"There's concrete evidence of what he's doing," Pechlaner-Krug said. "It really makes you question the system."
$2 million said to be missing
The 13 charges brought against Wanli earlier this year are mostly related to allegations he took money from his clients in various businesses, doing nothing in return. His former clients say a total of approximately $2 million is now unaccounted for.
"There is many of us and there is probably many, many more," former client Milan Vrekic said. "Somebody like him should not be allowed to stay" in Canada.
"I'm disgusted by it," said former client Bill Mondy, who originally hired Wanli to deal with an immigration problem, then gave him more money for investment purposes. "I am thoroughly disgusted by it." Mondy said he's lost close to half a million dollars in his dealings with Wanli.
The CBC tried several times to contact Wanli while he was free on bail, but he didn't return calls.
Mohammed Bassale Wanli left Syria for the United States 28 years ago. In 1986, he received his first U.S. conviction, for writing bad cheques. Several other charges and convictions followed — for theft, car theft, credit card fraud, possession of stolen property and other offences. Wanli served time in U.S. penitentiaries, then, because of his criminal activity, he was ordered deported to Syria.
Records show he filed a refugee application in the U.S. in 1993, but failed to meet several deadlines for filing the necessary paperwork. On the verge of deportation, in 1997, Wanli flew to Vancouver. At the airport, he again made a refugee claim.
"I do not recall how many convictions I had all together. Those were bad times and I do not wish to remember them," Wanli wrote on his claim.
Earlier in the same document, though, he said he'd already been back to Syria twice to visit, for three months in 1981 and then in 1983. He said he was jailed in Syria during his second visit, but didn't say why.
'History of misrepresentation' cited
The Canadian immigration officer at the airport who took his claim noted, "he lacks credibility; is eluding U.S.A. enforcement agencies; failed to appear for his court hearings in the U.S.A."
"He has a criminal history of misrepresentation," a supervisor added to the officer's report.
Despite that, Immigration and Refugee Board member Benjamin Ayorech believed Wanli had a legitimate fear of persecution and, in 1999, declared him a refugee under the terms of the United Nations convention on refugees.
"This guy got protected to stay here?" asked former client Sonia Nobre. "I don't understand."
Krug said: "Given his track record in terms of lies and deceits so far, there's probably a very good chance that his application for convention refugee status was probably bogus as well."
Three years later, Wanli's first Canadian criminal charge was noted on his computerized file with Citizenship and Immigration Canada:
"Formal charges … laid on 19 April 2001 — fraud and theft under." Then, this remark is posted: "Client has a long history of fraud in Canada."
"This should be a perfect model example of a mistake that was made, and this is a way to make good by sending him back," Mondy said.
The Canada Border Services Agency website indicates any non-citizen who commits a serious or indictable crime in Canada is subject to possible deportation.
In Wanli's case, however, the border agency, which decides if and when to take action, didn't initiate any deportation proceedings. Sources familiar with the case said his crimes were not considered serious enough to do so.
When Wanli was convicted in 2004, he had been charged with nine counts of fraud and theft, but he made a deal to plead guilty to four lesser counts of theft.
"It doesn't make me feel safe," Mondy said. "I am very proud that I am now a Canadian, and it's just gob-smacking to me that the ministry could make such a blunder and allow somebody who continues to offend to stay in."
People who break our laws will be deported: minister
When asked how serious convictions have to be to warrant deportation, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, the minister responsible for the Canada Border Services Agency, insisted any crime qualifies.
"We have a clear policy that people who come to Canada and commit crimes here are going to be deported," Day said. "There's also an appeal system that they can use, but we say that they have to respect our laws."
"We are going to maintain a serious approach to keeping Canada a secure and safe country. People who break our laws will be deported, and they are being deported," he said.
Wanli's alleged victims believe they will never see the money they lost. Until he was jailed recently, Wanli lived in a small, rented apartment in Vancouver. Records show, despite the fees he took from clients, he consistently claimed to have no money. He even went on social assistance over the summer, according to an affidavit he filed in a fight against eviction from his apartment.
Alleged victims question where money went
Law-enforcement sources who are familiar with the case said there is evidence of international relationships and wire transfers out of the country. Wanli's former clients said that raises serious questions about where their money went.
"Is he saving to move on to another destination where he can actually stretch the dollars that he has accumulated here in Canada? Could the money be going back to an organization he belongs to? I don't know," Krug said.
Krug and other former clients said they don't necessarily want Wanli deported to Syria if he does have a legitimate fear of persecution. But his alleged victims worry the federal government won't want to scrutinize the case because the prospect of removal to Syria is a political hot potato in the aftermath of the Maher Arar case. (Arar, an innocent Canadian citizen, was arrested and sent by U.S. authorities to Syria, where he was tortured.)
Krug said he simply wants a full review of the merits of Wanli's original refugee claim.
"I think the minister has to personally look at this case and decide, Is this in the best interests of this country to have this man here?" Krug said.
The law does allow Day to ask for review of a refugee claim, if he suspects the claimant may have lied when he made his claim.
"An application for vacation of refugee protection would be brought before the Immigration and Refugee Board when the CBSA has information that an individual has misrepresented him/herself or withheld material and relevant facts at the time of refugee application," wrote Paula Faber, a senior communications adviser with the refugee board.
"These institutions need to be re-examined and made accountable to us so they function for all of us," Krug said.
"I don't want anybody else to get duped like we did," Medina lamented.