SNC also embarked on a joint venture with the Corps, for work “in the civil and military fields,” as noted in a draft agreement between the two sides.
The joint venture called itself “The Executing Agency” and held its first board meeting on Aug. 30, 2009, presided over by “Brigadier Saadi Gadhafi,” naming him as its board chairman. The SNC-Lavalin executive vice-president, Mr. Aissa, became deputy chairman. According to a signed copy of the meeting minutes, they agreed on a company logo somewhat reminiscent of the SNC-Lavalin logo, “with colours blue for SNC-Lavalin and green for Libya.”
SNC said in a statement Friday that “[t]e Executing Agency was set up as a management company to run this project and others, if there were to be any … We were never involved in any programs related to technology, munitions or combat: Our role was and is strictly civil engineering and infrastructure. … No embargoes, regulations or rules regarding permits, hiring, etc. were broken to our knowledge and, in fact, we were extremely conscientious about respecting all rules or laws that were in effect at any particular time.”
Gadhafi’s grand ambition
Mr. Gadhafi played a personal role in awarding some construction work to his Canadian partners – in a letter on Dec. 16, 2009, for example, he submitted a letter of interest to Mr. Aissa for development of an airport in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.
Minutes from the Executing Agency’s second board meeting, on Jan. 17, 2010, notes the three-way co-operation between the joint venture, SNC-Lavalin and the Corps of Engineers.
“It is considered that a beneficial synergic effect can be arranged among the three organizations to make use of the equipment, personnel and training resources to meet each other companies [sic]needs,” the documents say.
The military needs of Mr. Gadhafi may have exceeded SNC-Lavalin’s field of expertise, however. The Canadian company has no known track record with procurement of fighter jets, shopping for tactical missiles and training of special-forces teams – activities that interested the Gadhafi regime.
A spokeswoman for SNC-Lavalin has portrayed Mr. Gadhafi’s Corps of Engineers as focused on “infrastructure-building within the country in the same style as other engineering corps around the world.” This impression is partly reinforced by the fact that Libyan officials had a translated Arabic copy of an organizational chart from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is best known for civil construction projects.
But documents show that Mr. Gadhafi’s military ambitions went further than civil construction. He was known outside Libya for his brief career as a professional soccer player and his antics in European nightclubs; his playboy lifestyle included a $1.6-million penthouse in Toronto. In Libya, however, he was often addressed with the honorifics “Engineer,” reflecting his education in the profession, or “Brigadier,” in deference to his service in a special-forces unit.
Libyan records show Mr. Gadhafi’s interest in setting up an elite Special Operations Task Force of about 1,000 men, including air, navy and ground elements. Former soldiers had submitted their resumés, presumably for consulting work, including three men who boasted of 26-, 16- and 12-year careers in the French special forces. One of the job candidates described a history of clandestine service that included assistance to Afghan guerrillas during the war against Soviet occupation in the 1980s; leadership of an “explosives ordnance and sabotage cell;” advisory roles in protecting the French president and nuclear facilities; and several years in the senior ranks of military intelligence.
During the 2011 uprising, Mr. Gadhafi was widely reported to be leading elite military teams. “It is very well known that Saadi is the worst of the Gadhafi sons,” said Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, vice-chairman of the National Transitional Council, Libya’s interim government.
Four government and human-rights officials in Libya, interviewed by The Globe and Mail, confirmed that Mr. Gadhafi arrived in Benghazi just before security forces massacred hundreds of demonstrators at the start of the uprising in February. A Libyan soldier told the BBC that he heard Mr. Gadhafi give orders to shoot unarmed protesters, although Mr. Gadhafi denies this. He is on the run from Libyan authorities, living in Niger, and has hired a lawyer who specializes in war crimes and rejects claims of wrongdoing.
With a report from Paul Waldie