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The private investigator tells his story Add to ...

Derrick Snowdy rubs his eyes, crosses his arms and paces as he goes over the details one more time. It's late at night, the resort crowds have retreated indoors and beneath the outcropping where he stands, Hammerhead sharks trace slow, wandering arcs in a man-made lagoon.

Mr. Snowdy, the private investigator who passed information to the Conservative Party that brought down former cabinet minister Helena Guergis, lays out his role in a political drama that turned on a business deal gone sour.

I will stand in front of any party that wants to question my integrity or ethics. Derrick Snowdy

At its core, it is a story of happenstance and revenge - one where a cabinet minister's career became collateral damage in Mr. Snowdy's quest to get back at an accused fraudster.

Mr. Snowdy's credibility came under fire last week because of his personal bankruptcy. Although court documents show claims of $13-million against him, the bulk of that is due to an $11-million lawsuit brought by a former business partner, he said. He is in the Bahamas on business this week, but was keen to tell his story.

"I have nothing to hide," Mr. Snowdy said. "I will stand in front of any party that wants to question my integrity or ethics."

His account begins 18 months ago, when Mr. Snowdy was hired on behalf of an investor in an inventory logistics company called HD Retail Solutions to look into the background of a man who proposed to take the company public.

The man's name was Nazim Gillani, a tiny, ball-of-energy businessman who was full of deals and plans, and is currently charged with fraud in an unrelated case.

Mr. Snowdy said he started looking into the people he says Mr. Gillani proposed to involve in the deal, and found several had been involved in investigations in the U.S. for a variety of stock scams.

At that point, Mr. Snowdy says he urged his clients to walk away, but Mr. Gillani already had effective control of the company, Mr. Snowdy said.

As the negotiations went back and forth, Mr. Snowdy took note of one name that Mr. Gillani kept mentioning. He doubted it was true, but Mr. Gillani claimed to work with Rahim Jaffer, the former Edmonton-area MP who is married to Ms. Guergis.

"I figured [Mr. Gillani]was a poser, doing his thing," said Mr. Snowdy, who says he heard all manner of boasts from Mr. Gillani, including that he was part-owner in an escort service and had links to organized crime.

So, when Mr. Jaffer's name popped up again at a meeting at the Spice Route restaurant on Toronto's King Street in August, 2009, it seemed like it might be more of the same.

Mr. Snowdy and Mr. Gillani had spoken on the phone several times before the meeting, with Mr. Snowdy using three fake personas - a tactic PIs refer to as "pretexting" - as part of his investigation into his plans for the business. But on this night, Mr. Snowdy was without disguise.

Mr. Gillani was giving a pitch to investors in HD Retail explaining his plans for a reverse takeover. HD Retail would take over a company called Greenwind Power Corp., a shell that traded on a loosely regulated stock exchange known as the Pink Sheets.

Mr. Gillani pulled Mr. Snowdy aside, the private investigator said, and showed him a document with the names of corporations registered in Belize. Mr. Gillani explained that these corporations would be used to hold stock for the initial investors - out of sight from regulators and tax authorities, Mr. Snowdy said. Mr. Snowdy pointed to one and was told by Mr. Gillani that it was reserved for Mr. Jaffer, and another was reserved for Mr. Jaffer's wife, he said.

(Mr. Snowdy said he took a copy of this list of corporations with him from the meeting but declined to provide one to The Globe and Mail.)

"Nothing that Snowdy has said about Mr. Gillani is true," said Brian Kilgore, Mr. Gillani's spokesman. "Why would Gillani say these things to a complete stranger?"

Later, Mr. Gillani said that Mr. Jaffer would be the controlling stock holder in some of the corporations he was setting up, Mr. Snowdy said.

Mr. Snowdy asked Mr. Gillani how he intended to keep Mr. Jaffer in line, he says. Mr. Gillani waved his cellphone in the air and replied "I've partied with him and his wife," according to Mr. Snowdy. The suggestion was that the photos would involve compromising situations, Mr. Snowdy said.

If Mr. Snowdy's clients were wary of Mr. Gillani, relations were about to get even chillier - and it had nothing to do with stock options and investors. Things turned really nasty because of a ruined honeymoon, Mr. Snowdy said.

According to the private investigator, Mr. Gillani had promised to help out one of the principals in HD Retail, a man named Dennis Garces, by arranging and paying for his $30,000 honeymoon. But when the big day arrived, Mr. Garces discovered that not only was there no limo ride to the airport, there were no plane tickets, and no hotel, Mr. Snowdy alleges.

"I confront Gillani by text message after he screwed Dennis. I said, 'You fucked up with the wrong guy,' " Mr. Snowdy said.

After a series of threats via text message between Mr. Snowdy and Mr. Gillani, the brash business promoter said he wanted a truce. He told Mr. Snowdy that he would arrange for a limo to pick him up when he returned from a trip to Los Angeles. Shortly before Mr. Snowdy touched down though, he says he got a warning: "Don't take the limo ride. It's a set-up."

At this point, Mr. Snowdy says his investigation got personal. "My curiosity is now officially piqued," he recalled thinking.

Over the next few weeks, by some good fortune, he would repeatedly find himself in the right place in the right time.

A few days after he learned about the alleged "set up," he says he got tipped off that Mr. Gillani was dining at West end Toronto steakhouse, La Castile. He was only a block and half away at the time, he says.

He hurried over to the restaurant for what he calls "a quick little reccy" - a reconnaissance mission on what Mr. Gillani was up to. And what he witnessed would show him that Mr. Gillani might not have been such a poser after all.

"Jesus Christ - there's Jaffer," he recalled thinking, when he looked over and saw the former MP among a group.

On Sept. 10, 2009 Mr. Gillani and Mr. Jaffer had a similar meeting at another Toronto steak house, Harbour Sixty. It was after that dinner that Mr. Jaffer was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated and cocaine possession, charges that were later dropped in a controversial plea bargain.

Shortly after, Mr. Snowdy was in downtown Toronto when he got a text message saying Mr. Gillani was out for dinner with Ms. Guergis and Mr. Jaffer at Sassafraz restaurant.

Mr. Snowdy walked past the restaurant and spotted the threesome at a table just inside the window.

"Now I've got Naz, Rahim and Helena Guergis at a restaurant dining together," he said. "He's boasted of being an equity holder in an escort agency, [and he's]sitting with the minister of state for the status of women."

As unusual as it was, the meeting was just an anecdote tucked away in his mind, until April 8, 2010, when Ottawa was abuzz over a Toronto Star report that detailed the meal Mr. Jaffer shared with Mr. Gillani and others before his arrest.

Mr. Snowdy's first move was to e-mail his MP, Conservative Lisa Raitt.

Next, he called the Liberal Party. He wasn't able to get through, but left a message and never heard back.

It wasn't until 10:54 pm that Mr. Snowdy finally told his story. He got a call from Arthur Hamilton, a Conservative party lawyer at a Bay Street firm.

The next day, Mr. Snowdy met the lawyer face-to-face, and laid out all of his encounters with Mr. Gillani and his politically connected friends.

Within the hour, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Ms. Guergis had resigned from cabinet and that she had been kicked out of caucus.

Mr. Snowdy said he has spoken with the RCMP and expects he will meet with them when he returns to Canada. He said he was shocked his finances became the centre of attention after he was identified as the third party whose tip led to Ms. Guergis's resignation. Although he feels bruised by the encounter, he said he would do it again.

"In a heartbeat."

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