Mexico formally arrests Canadian in alleged Gadhafi plot

Mexican officials say they have formally arrested Canadian Cyndy Vanier and three co-accused who have been held for months in jail on suspicion of plotting to smuggle members of Libya's Gadhafi family to Mexico.

Cyndy Vanier accused of attempted human trafficking, other offences

Cyndy Vanier, who has been held 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, has been formally charged by Mexican authorities.

Officials in Mexico say they have formally arrested Canadian Cyndy Vanier and three co-accused who have been held for months in jail on suspicion of plotting to smuggle members of Libya's Gadhafi family to Mexico.

Vanier is accused of a list of offences including attempted human trafficking, involvement in organized crime and falsification of documents.

Guillermo Fonseca, a representative from Mexico's prosecutor's office based in Washington, D.C., told CBC News Vanier's arrest is akin to being formally charged.

A judge must review the file to decide whether the case should proceed to trial over the next few days, he said.

Officials in Mexico announced more details about their probe Wednesday, saying it tied into an earlier investigation, announced in May 2009, into the theft of thousands of blank Mexican passport books.

Vanier has been detained in Mexico since November.

Officials said Vanier and her co-accused — Mexican citizens Gabriela Davila Huerta and Jose Luis Kennedy Prieto, as well as Pierre Christian Flensborg of Denmark — were involved in renting planes and travelling to Libya in July 2011 to extract Saadi Gadhafi, one of the sons of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Vanier, who was recently transferred to a federal prison in southern Mexico, has been asked to sign court documents that she does not understand as they are in Spanish, her mother Betty MacDonald said in an email to CBC News. Vanier does not have access to a lawyer, her mother added.

Organized 2 extraction attempts

In a news release, authorities allege the accused were not able to get Saadi Gadhafi out of Africa on their first attempt because the pilots refused to land secretly.

Mexican authorities said the accused then "decided to organize a second trip with more secure planes with which they could carry out the extraction," according to a rough translation of the release.

The suspects allegedly contracted a private aviation company and "from that moment until the capture of the accused on the 10th and 11th of November they were organizing themselves with a view to carrying out this end," the release said.

Mexican officials also say the suspects acquired a house in the Nayarit region of western Mexico and attempted to purchase a room in a hotel as part of the alleged plot. 

These allegations have not been tested in court. Lawyers for Vanier are to argue before a judge over the next few days to argue for her release, pending a trial.

Fonseca told CBC News that her release is highly unlikely given the gravity of the allegations, and because she is a foreign national who would be considered a flight risk if she were let out of jail.

Canadian says she faced 'torture' in custody

Vanier said she has been tortured and abused during nearly three months in Mexican custody, including being hit in the kidney by a Mexican police officer.

Her family told CBC News she has had to purchase her own medication although after months in custody she has no money left.

Vanier, a mediator from Mount Forest, Ont., has denied any involvement in a plot. She said she travelled to Mexico City in early November for business meetings to introduce a client (CBC News has confirmed it was a representative from SNC-Lavalin) to contacts in Mexico about potential water-purification projects.

She said she travelled to Libya on a fact-finding mission in July to report on civilian deaths during the conflict, an effort paid for by Canadian engineering firm SNC Lavalin to determine the security situation on the ground.

But Gary Peters, a private bodyguard who worked for the Gadhafi family for years, and was hired by Vanier to provide security during her mission to Libya, told CBC News that Vanier consulted on a plan to move Saadi Gadhafi and members of his family to Mexico.

Peters said he was involved in viewing properties in Mexico and examining potential transfer plans, but the entire effort was abandoned in June when it was deemed to be illegal, given the UN-imposed ban on Gadhafi's travel and the freezing of his assets.


Dave Seglins

CBC Investigations

Dave Seglins is an investigative journalist whose recent work includes exposés on global ticket scalping, offshore tax avoidance and government surveillance. He covers a range of domestic and international issues, including rail safety, policing, government and corporate corruption.