His name is Walter Wolf.
He boasts four citizenships – Slovenian, Croatian, German and Canadian – and could rightfully claim title as an international man of mystery. He made a fortune in the oil services industry across Africa, the Arabian Gulf and the North Sea, where he employed scuba divers to maintain rigs. He sent upward of 200,000 gas masks from Poland to Slovenia just as Yugoslavia was disintegrating. And he bought a footwear company and a liquor company in Croatia, where a popular brand of cigarettes is named for him, marketed to those who “love speed and excitement” – like Mr. Wolf, who was the first Canuck to own an F1 racing team and helped bring the Grand Prix to Montreal.
“The expression in Canada would be: ‘He’s a strange bird,’” said Karlheinz Schreiber, a German-Canadian businessman who, together with Mr. Wolf, helped unseat Joe Clark as Progressive Conservative leader in 1983.
Today, Mr. Wolf is accused of being a middleman in an arms-related bribery scheme that culminated in the June 5 conviction in Ljubljana of Slovenia’s former primer minister, Janez Jansa. The 73-year-old Mr. Wolf, who maintains his innocence and said he never met Mr. Jansa before trial, is wanted on an arrest warrant to stand trial in the so-called Patria Affair – a 2006 defence deal worth $381.3-million.
So where is Walter Wolf? Right here in Canada.
“I was at the Grand Prix [in Montreal two weeks ago],” said Mr. Wolf, who was reached at his 7,000-acre B.C. ranch outside Kamloops. “I’m not hiding anywhere.”
Still, not even his lawyers seemed to know where he is. His Croatian lawyer, Anto Nobilo, who is representing Mr. Wolf in a separate trial in Karlovac, Croatia, regarding the footwear company, said his client is in the U.S. for medical treatment. His Slovenian lawyer, Andrej Kac, said Mr. Wolf was somewhere near Montreal.
Mr. Wolf denies the allegations against him, including that he founded an organized criminal group in Austria, where he has been excused from court for medical reasons and is considered likely to be acquitted in a separate trial in that country. In Slovenia, his lawyer said Mr. Wolf has been indicted for “assisting in the crime of the accepting of gifts, or bribes, to promote unlawful intervention.”
Mr. Wolf said he didn’t flee Slovenia for Canada but rather goes back and forth “all the time” and was surprised a European warrant was issued for his arrest – he said he was just visiting Pepperdine University in California this week checking out the campus for his son. “I will face this after I get the operation done,” he said of plans for a heart procedure at a Toronto hospital in July.
In fact, just over a week after Mr. Jansa was sentenced to two years in prison, Mr. Wolf told Slovenia’s STA news agency that he will mount a counterstrike – that he would next month “launch a big bang” and reveal a “very dirty story” about some of the Patria players. “It’s a political game that they’re playing,” he said of the prosecution.
Mr. Wolf said he last appeared in Slovenian court earlier this year, shortly before the warrant was issued on March 28 and just months after the lead prosecutor warned Mr. Wolf “might escape.” In a June 6 press release, the Judiciary of the Republic of Slovenia said proceedings against Mr. Wolf would be “completed separately, when possible.”
Slovenia’s top diplomat in Ottawa said her central European government has twice asked that she pass along an “invitation” for Mr. Wolf to appear in court.“The Slovenian Justice [Ministry] invited him to participate in this case – to tell his story, to answer the questions and so on,” Irena Gril said. “This is between him and the court.”
Because Mr. Wolf is a Canadian citizen, and since Slovenia and Canada do not have an extradition treaty, an ad hoc request would go through diplomatic channels, said B.C. lawyers Gary Botting and Alex Stojicevic, who do not represent Mr. Wolf. Ms. Gril said Slovenia has not made a formal request.
This latest twist in an already colourful life has shot Mr. Wolf into European headlines while he lives at his ranch with Etna Kernz, his love interest of about a decade. Before her, he married and divorced the great-grandaughter of a Prince Edward Island former premier, and married and divorced a former Miss Austria.
He said his time in Austria included hosting Pierre Trudeau for dinner at his apartment when the Canadian prime minister was snowed in there back in 1977. Mr. Wolf’s penetration of former prime minister Brian Mulroney’s inner circle was thanks, mainly, to meeting people on the Quebec ski slopes. “I knew [Mr. Mulroney] quite well,” he said.
In fact, Mr. Wolf and Mr. Schreiber helped fund the 1983 dump-Joe Clark campaign that unseated the PC party leader and helped install Mr. Mulroney at the helm. (Mr. Wolf pointed out that Mr. Clark had proposed moving Canada’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which Mr. Wolf said cost him a lucrative Abu Dhabi crude contract because it signalled that “Canada became Arab-unfriendly.”)
Michel Cogger, a former Mulroney adviser who has known Mr. Wolf “for the better part of his life,” said he did not know about the Slovenian charges. “I do not wish to discuss my relationship or the gentleman himself,” he said.
Born to an Austrian-Slovenian mother and a German father in Austria in 1939, Mr. Wolf moved to Canada in 1960, where he later made a name for himself in the racing industry. Allan de la Plante, who first met Mr. Wolf in the 1970s and was once the official photographer to the legendary Gilles Villeneuve, said he last saw Mr. Wolf in September at a vintage race in Mission, B.C., where the two reminisced over racing years past.
“Here’s a guy that came as a landed immigrant with nothing,” Mr. de la Plante said. “He’s got an amazing history … He’s quite a boy.”