It is a globe-spanning scandal involving a son of a dead dictator, a respected Montreal engineering firm and a Canadian prisoner in a Mexican jail, accused of organizing a multimillion-dollar scheme that prosecutors now claim was plotted out in e-mail exchanges.
Cynthia Vanier, a 52-year-old conflict mediator from Mount Forest, Ont., is charged by Mexican prosecutors with document forgery, human smuggling and being a member of a criminal organization. The summary of evidence against her, a copy of which was supplied by her defence team, shows the prosecution is building its case on allegedly incriminating e-mails – which could become an issue, as it was supplied by the Internet activist group Anonymous.
The e-mails in the case summary trace exchanges between people accused of plotting to fly Saadi Gadhafi, jet-setting son of the late Libyan dictator Moammar, out of the reach of justice and into an assumed identity in Mexico. Ms. Vanier has protested her innocence of the allegations in a previous interview with The Globe and Mail.
The case summary also identifies Canadian engineering giant SNC-Lavalin, which contracted Ms. Vanier to conduct a fact-finding mission to Libya in 2011, as a financial supporter of the alleged plot.
The day after Ms. Vanier’s arrest, former SNC-Lavalin executive Stephane Roy was detained by police in Mexico City and then released. Mr. Roy, his boss Riadh Ben Aissa and SNC-Lavalin’s CEO, Pierre Duhaime, have since departed the company, which is trying to trace $56-million in improper payments. The RCMP has raided the company’s Montreal headquarters.
Mexican authorities believe that Ms. Vanier and her accomplices were to conduct an emergency “extraction” of Mr. Gadhafi and his family, flying them via private aircraft from North Africa to Mexico. Once in Mexico, the Gadhafis were to be given false identities, and kept in close protection at the high-end St. Regis hotel and condominium complex in Mexico City.
Ms. Vanier has stated that references to “extraction” in her aircraft-leasing contract were precautionary measures common to her work in dangerous zones. Her legal team further argues that the evidence presented against her is illegitimate, as much of it comes from Anonymous and cannot be traced.
The prosecution believes that forged documents, which included a Mexican passport and a Mexican voting card, were used by Ms. Vanier to facilitate illegal financial activity, notably to open bank accounts that would allegedly provide for the Gadhafis’ future in Mexico.
In order to acquire the documents, Ms. Vanier, who does not speak Spanish, allegedly relied on her co-accused, Gabriela “Gabby” de Cueto, a Mexican-American with residences in both San Diego and Mexico City, who then turned to a professional document forger.
These documents included the alteration of Ms. Vanier’s identity from her legal name, Cynthia Ann Vanier, to Cinthia Anne Macdonald Grau, as well as new identities for all four members of the Gadhafi family.
In an e-mail dated Aug. 26, 2011, which Ms. Vanier sent to Ms. de Cueto from her e-mail address at her company, Vanier Consulting, Ms. Vanier allegedly referenced the need for proof that the identity changes were occurring.
“Is there anything that you can send me to show that the changes in identity are in process?” the e-mail says, adding that proof is required before her client can secure payment. “This amount comes from somewhere else and I’m stuck in the middle! It is very difficult to explain to people who don’t do this type of rescue work, because the payments are required within a tight time frame, and normally in advance.”
The Mexican Attorney-General’s office argues that up until Ms. Vanier’s arrest on Nov. 10 the plan was to bring Saadi Gadhafi and his family to the St. Regis hotel in Mexico City, where they would stay for 90 days before being relocated to a permanent residence in a secure location.
To support the theory, the evidence summary includes an e-mail from Gregory Gillispie of the San Diego-based aircraft leasing firm GG Global Holdings, who along with Ms. de Cueto arranged the aircraft for Ms. Vanier’s fact-finding mission to Libya in July, 2011.
In the e-mail, Mr. Gillispie allegedly tells his friend and business partner Michael Boffo that big money was to be made providing close protection at the St. Regis.
“I gave the second proposal to Cyndy for a security group of eight men to provide protection for a family of four to be located in Mexico City,” allegedly writes Mr. Gillispie, a former U.S. Marine who also owned a security firm named Veritas Worldwide Security. “The family will stay in residence at the St. Regis hotel 95% of the time.”
The e-mail goes on to say that it will be “easy money,” and that if all goes according to plan it could be a permanent business.
“I told Cyndy that we are not doing anything until she deposited 100% of the $2,000,000 in advance,” the e-mail says. “Gabby is preparing another proposal for services we can provide, and for that Cyndy has committed another $3,000,000.”
Mr. Gillispie has told The Globe that his e-mail account was hacked, and two e-mails were blended. “They’ve taken part of the one of my e-mails where I am discussing with Michael the requirements for our potential client … who is an official in the Mexican government, and my e-mail to him describing the outcome of our meeting with Cyndy Vanier,” said Mr. Gillispie.
Another pillar of the prosecution’s case is Ms. Vanier’s role in financing the alleged plot. Mexican officials lay out a case that involves multiple sponsors, but Ms. Vanier only acknowledges SNC-Lavalin as a client.
“The contract for the work done by Cyndy was between her company and SNC-Lavalin,” Ms. Vanier’s Mexican lawyer, Noel Almanza Mundo, said in a phone interview. “No third party could have contributed economic resources.”
The validity of the e-mail presented by the prosecution is also being questioned by Vanier’s defence team, because they originated from Anonymous.
Under Mexican law, such evidence has to come from a known individual. If not, it can be appealed, and determined to be inadmissible in court.
“If you cannot prove who sent the e-mail, then you cannot certify the evidence,” says Mr. Almanza Mundo. “This is all speculation.”
Mr. Almanza Mundo has also challenged the credibility the prosecutor’s star witness, Christian Esquino Nuñez, whose services Mr. Gillispie and Ms. de Cueto used to supply jet aircraft for Ms. Vanier’s work for SNC-Lavalin.
Mr. Esquino Nuñez has told the Mexican authorities that he overheard Mr. Gillispie and Ms. de Cueto discussing the plot.
However, Esquino Nuñez has a criminal record in the U.S, having been imprisoned for conspiracy to commit fraud with an aircraft, and is now in jail in Mexico, where he is being held on an outstanding arrest warrant, purportedly also for aircraft fraud.
Ms. Vanier’s defence team is essentially suggesting that Mr. Esquino Nuñez might have cut a deal with the Mexican Attorney-General’s office, offering Ms. Vanier and her alleged co-conspirators as a bigger prize.
Who is who:
Cynthia Vanier: Canadian mediator accused of leading a plot to allegedly spirit Saadi Gadhafi and his family out of Libya to Mexico. Currently in prison in Mexico fighting criminal charges.
Gregory Gillispie: A former U.S. Marine, runs GG Global Holdings, a San Diego company that arranged planes for the alleged rescue plot. Not facing charges.
Gabriela de Cueto: Mexican partner of Mr. Gillispie arrested in Mexico over the alleged plot.
Pierre Christian Flensborg: Danish national, also arrested in Mexico, who worked with GG Global Holdings and is accused of allegedly organizing logistics for the escape.
Jose Luis Kennedy Prieto: A Mexican also arrested and accused of allegedly forging passports for the Gadhafi family as part of the plot.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story had the wrong date of an e-mail Cynthia Vanier sent to Gabriela de Cueto. The correct date of the e-mail is Aug. 26, 2011.