Later, Mahmoud Razwan of the Canadian Libyan Friendship Association asked Ms. Vanier if she would be interested in a mission to analyze the conflict. She says she told Mr. Razwan they would need a sponsor for the plan. She says he sent letters to a long list of companies with interests in Libya, including SNC-Lavalin, seeking a corporate backer for the plan. (Mr. Razwan could not be reached to comment.)
One day, company executive Stéphane Roy called Ms. Vanier, she says.
“I did not go and solicit him or SNC-Lavalin. SNC contacted my office. It was just a call out of the blue to say we want to know a little bit more about you. My original intent was I was not going to leave Canadian soil at all,” said Ms. Vanier from her jail in Chetumal, Mexico.
Mr. Peters maintains he was the one drumming up all that business.
SNC-Lavalin had $1-billion in projects in Libya, and as The Globe and Mail reported recently, the company had offered to help Saadi Gadhafi with his proposed military operations. This included offering Canadian consultants to assist with a civil-military unit that received funding from the Libyan defence ministry.
The company denies that it got involved in any military-related projects in Libya, except the construction of a prison. It also now says Ms. Vanier’s mission may have been improperly authorized. The company is conducting an internal investigation into $35-million in unexplained payments.
“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 … may have been outside of the permitted scope of authority of those who assigned them,” Leslie Quinton, the company’s vice-president of communications, said in a statement.
The company has fired two executives who were associated with the contract, including Mr. Roy, who could not be reached for comment for this story. Why they believed Ms. Vanier was qualified for the job remains a mystery.
She was paid $100,000 for a 10-day trip which produced a jargon-laden five-page report that criticized NATO harshly for bombing civilians, sidetracking the peace efforts of the Libyan government and provoking a human-rights and humanitarian disaster. “We run the risk that when we intend to help, we sometimes do more harm than help,” the report says in one of its few lucid quotes.
Ms. Vanier was flying high when she returned to Canada, landing on the private jet rented from Mexico through San Diego-based Veritas Worldwide Security, then an affiliate of a company which boasts it offers motorcade operations, corporate security and clandestine operations.
“It was her first big contract with SNC-Lavalin; of course her ego was boosted by it. It was without a question her biggest client, most lucrative. She felt she could handle it. I think she did handle it,” said Ms. MacDonald.
Two months later, Ms. Vanier’s mission to Libya was long over and she had parted ways with Mr. Peters, but she was still flying around on private jets. Her family says she was trying to drum up Mexican business for water projects for SNC-Lavalin through Mr. Roy, and that the company still owes her another $395,500. She also used the jet to fly back to Mexico in late October, where she was planning to winter.
Mexican authorities say this is when they interrupted the plot, charging her and three alleged co-conspirators from Mexico and Denmark, including two employees of Veritas, with participating in organized crime, producing falsified documents, intent to use falsified documents and intent to traffic humans. They say the original supposed fact-finding trip was just the first attempt to smuggle out Saadi Gadhafi.
“I think she was manipulated, hand-picked for this mission from the beginning by people like Gary Peters who knew her vulnerabilities,” says her sister, Rhonda. “She truly thought she was there for humanitarian reasons.”
Mr. Peters, who parted ways with Ms. Vanier before the alleged Mexico gambit, is facing questions from Canadian authorities about his own role helping Mr. Gadhafi flee to Niger, as well as his connections to SNC-Lavalin.
He maintains he knows nothing about any clandestine missions to Mexico and says Ms. Vanier’s naiveté is part of the explanation. “She got caught up in adventure, she saw the big coin, the private jet, it turned her on. But she was out of her element. This was not her world,” Mr. Peters says. “She bit off more than she could chew and started playing with the big boys.”
Ms. Vanier, who steadfastly refused to answer questions about the allegations under Mexican federal law, simply says she remains hopeful it will all be sorted out.
“I am, I am absolutely. I gotta believe.”
With a report from Graeme Smith
Tim Wilson is a freelancer for The Globe and Mail