Gadhafi Mexico plot riles SNC-Lavalin, insiders say

Insiders at Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin say the company is in turmoil over its involvement with Cyndy Vanier, a hired consultant now facing serious charges in Mexico.
Cyndy Vanier, a Canadian under arrest in Mexico, faces accusations she led a plot to smuggle members of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi's family into Mexico.

Insiders at Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin say the company is in turmoil over its involvement with Cyndy Vanier, a hired consultant now facing serious charges in Mexico.

A number of employees have come forward to CBC News alleging Vanier has become a victim of "rogue" officers within their own company who arranged secretive meetings with Vanier in Mexico. The insiders spoke to CBC News on condition they not be named, for fear of reprisals within the company.

Vanier was arrested in Mexico City on Nov. 10, 2011 and is in jail facing charges of leading a plot to smuggle members of Libya’s Gadhafi family into the country under assumed names involving forged passports. The next day, three other people were arrested.

At the time, Vanier was arranging meetings between Mexican officials and SNC-Lavalin vice-president controller Stephane Roy on potential water treatment projects.

Roy had hired Vanier in July to travel to Libya for a "fact-find report" for SNC-Lavalin, which has billions of dollars in construction projects procured under the Gadhafi regime.  In October, she moved her base of business operations to her winter home in Bucerias, Mexico and continued to work for the company.

Emails provided by her lawyer indicate Vanier wrote to SNC-Lavalin Oct. 28, stating:  "There are very aggressive development plans on the horizon in many regions in Mexico," referring to water treatment projects. Vanier advised she was in the process  of setting up meetings through her Mexican colleague with Mario Lopez-Valdez, the governor of the state of Sinaloa, and Antonio Vivanco Casamadrid, the general director of CFE, the country’s federal electricity commission.

CBC News has learned an SNC Lavalin executive questioned the proposed meeting and told Vanier in early November that the company was not interested and cancelled it.

However, the company now acknowledges that Roy ultimately did accept her invitation and arrived in Mexico City Nov. 11, the day after Vanier was arrested. Roy met with Vanier’s associate instead, Gabriela Davila Huerta, but their meeting was thwarted when police moved in and arrested Huerta, accusing her of involvement in the Gadhafi smuggling plot. According to the company, Roy was released after he stated he was visiting exploring water treatment projects.

Insiders say SNC visit a mystery

A number of company insiders said that since news emerged of Roy’s presence in Mexico, a group of approximately 25 managers have been raising questions internally about SNC-Lavalin’s role. Some staff were told the trip had been cancelled. The insiders say Roy is a financial controller and question why he was in Mexico talking up water projects when business development isn’t his job.

SNC-Lavalin spokesperson Leslie Quinton originally stated: "SNC Lavalin has not been involved with Ms. Vanier since the fact finding mission in early summer 2011."

But last week, CBC News revealed that Roy was at the scene of the arrests in Mexico.

SNC Lavalin issued a new statement that said, "We understand that there was no charge placed against [Roy] nor, to our knowledge, is he under investigation now."

"I also reiterate that SNC-Lavalin does not and would not condone any action that contravenes any local or international laws or regulations," Quinton said. There has been no official business done on behalf of SNC-Lavalin with any member of the Gadhafi family since the interim Libyan government has been in power."

Company’s ‘moral compass’ questioned

The SNC-Lavalin insiders say they fear the company’s construction division has lost its "moral compass" in the past year in Libya.

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They insist they are intensely proud of their company’s heritage and adeptness of conducting profitable business in politically volatile regions, building large highways, hydro electric dams, water facilities, airports and other mega projects in places in the throes of regime change like Libya, Afghanistan and Tunisia.

On the other hand, the insiders question recent actions in Libya under the watch of Riadh Ben Aïssa, executive vice-president of the SNC-Lavalin’s construction arm. They claim SNC-Lavalin put profits before ethics when last year the company won a $275-million US contract to build a prison for the Moammar Gadhafi regime, known for brutal oppression and mistreating political opponents. When the contract received publicity, SNC-Lavalin defended the project, telling CBC the facility will be the "first to be built according to international human rights standards."

"We think this is an important step forward for this country and an opportunity for us as a company to share values that we think are essential to all citizens of the world," Quinton, the company's vice-president of global communications, said in an email.

The insiders also question why SNC-Lavalin paid for a fact-finding mission to Libya in July, hiring Vanier, when the entire enterprise was being orchestrated as a propaganda effort by Saadi Gadhafi, the son of the now-deposed dictator, who oversaw the awarding of many contracts won by SNC-Lavalin.

Concern over role in Gadhafi flight

The insiders say they are disturbed by Ben Aïssa's actions in the dying days of the Gadhafi regime as rebel forces encircled Tripoli. A CBC News  investigation found that in late August and early September 2011 Ben Aïssa and SNC-Lavalin paid to fly one of Saadi Gadhafi’s personal body guards, Gary Peters, from Canada and host him in Tunis. 

Peters claimed he was at SNC-Lavalin’s offices in Tunis, where he and Ben Aïssa held a video conference with Saadi Gadhafi and Stephane Roy, talking about potential plans for Gadhafi’s movements. 

In the ensuing days, Peters left Tunisia and entered Libya to join an armed convoy to escort Saadi Gadhafi and his entourage to the border with Niger. Peters said he stopped at the border, but Gadhafi crossed over in violation of UN travel bans and has stayed in Niger, despite an international warrant issued for his arrest.

Saadi Gadhafi fled to Niger after Tripoli fell to Libyan revolutionary forces. (Abdel Magid al-Fergany/Associated Press)

The insiders said they do not know specifically what Roy was doing in Mexico City with Vanier, but said the entire matter is harming SNC-Lavalin’s reputation, and that the company has some moral obligation to assist her and her family.

To date, the company says it has not been asked to co-operate with any investigation by the RCMP, which has questioned Peters and Vanier about their ties to Libya.

CBC News reached Ben Aïssa and Roy by telephone Wednesday, but both declined to comment referring questions about what was going on in Mexico to their corporate communications office.

SNC Lavalin spokesperson Leslie Quinton told CBC late Wednesday that "to our knowledge, the RCMP has not requested any information from SNC-Lavalin or any of its employees to date." She did not address CBC’s questions of who in the company ordered, or knew, about Roy’s trip to Mexico to meet with Vanier.