SNC Lavalin Group Inc. is facing more questions about money the company allegedly owes to a Canadian consultant who has been caught up in a bizarre plot to spirit one of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi's sons to Mexico.
Last November, Mexican police arrested Cynthia Vanier, a Canadian who specializes in mediation, alleging she was part of a plan to bring Saadi Gadhafi to Mexico from Libya using false passports and other identification. Ms. Vanier has denied any wrongdoing and it is still unclear if Mexican officials will formally charge her.
SNC hired Ms. Vanier last summer amid the insurrection in Libya as part of a review of security arrangements for SNC workers in the country. She was introduced to the company by Gary Peters, a Canadian security consultant who was working as a body guard to Saadi at the time. Mr. Peters said he knew Ms. Vanier from her work in Ontario, which largely involved first nations communities, and brought her in to be a mediator between Libyan government officials, SNC and Saadi. She also wrote a report favourable to the Gadhafi regime. "She had the gift of gab," Mr. Peters recalled in an interview. He added that Ms. Vanier's work was not part of any plan to help Saadi get out of the country.
In October, Ms. Vanier submitted an invoice to SNC totaling nearly $400,000, according to her Toronto lawyer Paul Copeland. The company paid her about $100,000 for the work she did last summer but refused to pay anything further.
Mr. Copeland said he sent a letter last week to Tony Rosato, SNC's senior vice-president for Latin American operations, asking about the money he says is owed to Ms. Vanier. Mr. Rosato has not replied. Three days after Mr. Copeland's letter, SNC announced the dismissal of two executives; Riadh Ben Aissa and Stephane Roy. Mr. Ben Aissa oversaw SNC's operations in Libya and had a close relationship with Saadi. In a statement, Mr. Ben Aissa has denied any wrongdoing and he is threatening to sue SNC over the dismissal. Mr. Roy had been a contact at SNC for Ms. Vanier and he was in Mexico at the time of her arrest. Mr. Roy was meeting with one of the four people arrested with Ms. Vanier and he was briefly questioned and released.
On Sunday, Mr. Copeland said the dismissals raise more questions about SNC's actions and the conduct of its executives. It still isn't clear what, if anything, Ms. Vanier was doing for SNC in Mexico where she and her husband own a home. Mr. Peters said she was not involved in a plot to help Saadi escape and that she is likely being set up as a scapegoat. Mexican prosecutors have alleged Ms. Vanier was part of two failed attempts to bring Saadi to Mexico and that the plan including buying a house for Col. Gadhafi's son.
As for Mr. Roy, SNC has said he was in Mexico to discuss water projects with Ms. Vanier. Mr. Copeland said his understanding is that Mr. Rosato told Mr. Roy not to go to Mexico but he went anyway.
He also said he plans to keep pressing the company about the money he says is owed to Ms. Vanier. And he may have to sue to get it. "She needs the money, very badly," he said.
SNC has also faced questions about whether the company helped Belhassen Trabelsi, the brother-in-law of ex Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled into exile in Saudi Arabia a year ago. Mr. Trabelsi has permanent resident status in Canada and he has been living in Montreal since the uprising in Tunisia. He faces a deportation hearing in April.
There have been reports Mr. Ben Aissa helped Mr. Trabelsi, something he denied Friday. "In fact, Mr. Ben Aissa has never spoken to, or met Mr. Trabelsi; he does not know Mr. Trabelsi," a spokesman for Mr. Ben Aissa said in a statement. "Mr. Ben Aissa deplores any baseless allegations that aim only to associate his name with that of a person's whose reputation is tainted."