Canadian accused in Gadhafi plot cries for Ottawa's help

Canadian consultant Cyndy Vanier is calling on Ottawa to intervene in her case, accusing Mexico of human rights abuses and wrongly imprisoning her on charges she plotted to smuggle members of Libya's Gadhafi family to Mexico.

Cyndy Vanier lashes out at Gadhafi bodyguard who 'ruined my life'

Cyndy Vanier is being held in a prison in Chetumal, Mexico, accused of a plot to smuggle Saadi Gadhafi into the country from Africa. (John Nicol/CBC)

Canadian consultant Cyndy Vanier is calling on Ottawa to intervene in her case, accusing Mexico of human rights abuses and wrongly imprisoning her on charges she plotted to smuggle members of Libya's Gadhafi family to Mexico.

"Absolutely not," Vanier said in an exclusive interview with CBC News inside the minimum security prison where she's being held in Chetumal, along the border with Belize. 

"Sounds like something out of … Tom Clancy," she said. "I've never committed an illegal act in my life and nor would I have ever entertained anything like that."

CBC News recorded an interview with Vanier under the watchful eye of prison officials. It is the first time Vanier has publicly described her arrest on Nov. 10, her months-long detention without charge, and now the formal allegations she faces in Mexico.

Vanier says her only ties with Libya were through legitimate work for Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin.

She is accused of heading a criminal organization involving three other co-accused that allegedly forged passports and planned unsuccessfully to smuggle Saadi Gadhafi, a son of Libya's former dictator, to a secret safe house near Puerto Vallarta — contrary to a United Nations travel ban and an international arrest warrant.

Vanier decries arrest 'abuses' and 'inaction' of Canada

"We've been treated like criminals from Day 1," Vanier said. "Our photographs taken. Press conference done stating that we are criminals in this big Gadhafi plot. And I'm like — you've got to be kidding me!"

Vanier said that after her arrest she was held for 4½ days without access to the outside world, wounded by an investigator's blow to her kidney, denied a lawyer or translator, with Mexico failing to notify Canada's consulate that she was being held. 

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)

She's filed a number of formal complaints in Mexico and Canada claiming breaches of her human and legal rights under the Vienna Convention.

Vanier is furious that last week Mexican President Felipe Calderon was in Washington, D.C., to meet Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama, where he stated confidently that Vanier was indeed at the helm of a multinational smuggling plot.

"I think our government needs to speak out," she said. "Blatantly, on international TV, before the world, my rights were violated again. I've been basically accused of being a criminal by the leader of this country when I haven't gone through the process yet.

"We're supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. We haven't even been before a judge for that process to take place," Vanier said.

Vanier stands by her work in Libya for SNC-Lavalin

Vanier said that her only ties to Libya were through Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, which had billions of dollars worth of construction projects underway in Libya before the dictatorship collapsed.

Vanier's days in Mexican prison

A look at Cyndy Vanier's life in Chetumal women's prison.

Vanier provided CBC News with copies of two signed contracts — one for an initial fact-finding trip to Libya in July to assess security and the state of company installations on the ground; a second deal signed Aug. 27 was for what Vanier says was consulting and co-ordination of planes for what Vanier detailed as an "employee reintegration" plan to help SNC-Lavalin's thousands of employees return to Libya once the conflict subsided.

CBC News has also obtained copies of Vanier's contract to charter private planes, which she says was worth up to $3 million over nine months, should SNC-Lavalin have required them.

Vanier believes Mexican authorities jumped to conclusions about her work, mistaking plans to have a small plane on standby for the extraction or evacuation of returning employees in the event of an emergency as some sinister plot for potential human smuggling.

A big problem for Vanier, however, is that the SNC-Lavalin executives who hired her for the Libya work — who themselves had close ties to the regime and Saadi Gadhafi in particular (executive vice-president Riadh Ben Aissa and his financial controller VP Stéphane Roy) — were forced to resign earlier this year amid internal allegations of wrongdoing and findings by auditors that $56 million is missing. 

The company said it has contacted the RCMP. 

"Again, it's another piece of a puzzle that I'm just shaking my head, going OK?" said Vanier.

SNC-Lavalin has refused to pay Vanier for an invoice she submitted requesting $395,000, claiming it does not owe her anything. What's more, a spokesperson says the work Vanier did under Roy and Ben Aissa was not duly authorized by the company.

"I'm going to deal with that when I'm back on Canadian soil," Vanier said, pointing to the signed contracts and explaining she has bank statements for a retainer account showing SNC-Lavalin deposited more than $1 million to cover costs of privately chartered planes.

Vanier said two RCMP officers from the commercial crimes division visited her in prison in late March to ask questions about her dealings with the company. 

She said she was told she is only a witness in their investigations, not a suspect. But she said the officers threatened to charge her with obstruction of justice if she refused to co-operate, or if she spoke to the media about their visit. Vanier lodged a formal complaint with the RCMP commissioner, accusing officers of unjustly threatening her while she sits charged in a Mexican prison.

"I'm pretty angry about it. But I'm not exactly in a position where I can do a whole lot about it."

Accuser 'ruined my life'

Vanier squarely blames Gary Peters, a former security guard she hired for her trip to Libya, for her predicament. 

Gary Peters has spoken openly about his role in an aborted play to bring Saad Gadhafi to Mexico. Vanier asks, 'Why is he still wandering around a free man?' (CBC)

Peters made headlines last fall when he openly discussed helping Saadi Gadhafi flee Libya to nearby Niger in September, also admitting that earlier in the year he had been actively planning plan to move the son of Libya's dictator out of Libya to the Bahamas, Mexico or Venezuela.

"We were going to fly him out, ourselves. We would hire a plane or aircraft, air transportation, find our route out, and go. But it would be private," Peters told CBC News in December, insisting that Vanier was involved in exploring whether the move could be done legally given UN travel bans in place at the time. 

"We were all involved in trying to get it done, legally. The idea was dropped in June," Peters said. Vanier flatly denies knowing anything about the plan. "I know he's made a lot of things up. He's twisted facts. He's contradicted himself on countless occasions," Vanier said. "He has ruined my life, three other people's, our families'." 

Vanier said that after travelling to Libya with Peters in July, she severed all ties and refused to do any further work with him given his behaviour and performance.

Peters has since revealed to CBC News that despite earlier claims that he abandoned his notion of trying to move Saadi Gadhafi to Mexico in June, he actually travelled alone to the Punta Mita area in August scouting properties and making arrangements for the potential arrival of Gadhafi.

CBC News has also spoken to two other former members of Vanier's July Libya mission, Barrie Rice and Rick Bartlett , who both say they heard Peters brag about working on a deal that could lead to lucrative private security guard jobs in Mexico around the safe house properties. 

"If he's saying all these things then, you know, it begs the question, then why I am I here? And why is he still wandering around a free man?" Vanier said.

Peters, however, is no longer reachable. His work and mobile telephone lines have been disconnected and one former colleague who did media relations for him has expressed worries about his well-being, saying he hasn't been heard from for more than a month.

Libya mission a fateful 'mistake'

Vanier also rejects other evidence Mexico prosecutors claim to have against her, including a forged voter identification card found in her wallet, and also the discovery of a fake Mexican passport with her photo on it in the name of Cynthia Ann MacDonald Grau.

"They showed me a photograph of this card that had my picture, and a name that is not my name, and a signature that is not my signature, and a fingerprint that is definitely not my fingerprint. I don't know how it got there," Vanier says suggesting some of her co-accused or their associates may have had ulterior motives or been involved in some sort of identity theft.

"Obviously I was set up."

She also stands by her story that she was in Mexico City on Nov. 10 with her co-accused to arrange an introduction and meeting between the SNC-Lavalin vice-president Roy and Mexico's major water utility CONAGUA.

CBC News has confirmed with officials at CONAGUA that such a meeting was scheduled, but never took place.

Vanier broke down in tears when asked what she hopes will come of her case.

"I don't know what to make of it all. It hurts like hell."

Asked what mistake or error she's made contributing to her plight, she responded: "Picking up the phone to have the discussion about a mission to Libya in the first place. That would be the mistake."

John Babcock, spokesman for Minister of State of Foreign Affairs Diane Ablonczy, said Thursday that Canadian officials had been in touch with Vanier and her husband. He noted that she "has been charged with very serious crimes, specifically the falsification of documents, human trafficking and participation in organized crime."

He said officials will continue to be in touch with Mexican authorities "to request a transparent trial and ensure her medical needs are being met."

A spokeswoman for SNC-Lavalin said in an email:

"We are unable to comment on any work performed by Ms. Vanier, since it is SNC-Lavalin's contention that any mandates that may have been given to Ms. Vanier and/or Vanier Consulting may have been outside of the permitted scope of authority of those who assigned them."

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