Saturday 4 February 2012

Canadian woman charged in Gadhafi smuggling plot


The Mount Forest, Ont., woman held in a Mexican jail since November in a suspected plot to smuggle Moammar Ghadafi's son and his family out of Libya has been charged with falsifying documents, organized crime and attempted human smuggling. The charges were laid the same day Cyndy Vanier's family released a letter outlining what she calls deplorable conditions endured in the Mexican jail where she is being detained. Vanier, 52, was picked up in Mexico, where she and her husband have a winter home, last Nov. 10 and held without charges until Tuesday when a judge ordered warrants against two women and two men for a suspected plot to whisk Saadi Gadhafi and his family to Mexico. Those four people were Vanier, a mediator specializing aboriginal dispute and president of Vanier Consulting, and three other arrested in the alleged plot. Vanier has been pointed to as the ring leader. The charges were outlined in a press release from Mexico's office of the attorney general, who said its investigation showed a group had attempted to smuggle Gadhafi's son and his family in July but failed. A decision was made to make a second attempt and use another aircraft company to move the Gadhafis. The charges include accusations of falsifying a passport, voter registration card and a birth certificate. A house was bought in Bahia de Banderas, Nayarit, Mexico, to hide the family. There was also an attempt to buy an apartment in St. Regis hotel in Mexico City. The allegations, unproven in court, were linked to the theft of 4,586 passports in 2009. The charges outlined in the news release are for human smuggling, organized crime and counterfeiting three official documents. Vanier and the other female suspect are being held in a federal prison in Chetumal, Quintana Roo. The men are in a facility in Veracruz. Vanier wrote in the letter released by her family that she has been abused and tortured while in custody. Until Wednesday, she had been held on a judge's order. Under Mexico's preventative arrest law, people can be held up to 90 days without charge as investigators gather enough evidence to charge them. Bail is uncommon and not available at all for people accused of serious crimes. Her Canadian lawyer, Paul Copeland, said there was no coincidence as to why the letter was released early Wednesday when Vanier was finally charged. The family had it in their possession for some time, but waited until the detention order was over "so not to prejudice the situation." A spokesman for Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Diane Ablonczy confirmed Vanier contacted the Canadian government to allege she'd been abused in Mexican custody. "Officials have received, but have not verified Ms. Vanier's allegations. Canadians officials are reviewing these allegations and will act accordingly," John Babcock said. "Ms. Vanier faces very serious allegations in Mexico including the falsification of documents, human trafficking and participating in organized crime. Canadian officials are providing her with consular assistance, but Canadians travelling abroad are subject to the laws in the countries they visit. "Canada will continue to interact with Mexican authorities on her behalf as required, and our consular officials are ensuring that her medical concerns are being addressed." In a letter to Canada's foreign affairs department obtained by the CBC, Vanier said a dozen officers took her into custody on Nov. 9 and one of them struck her en route to a detention centre as they drove past her co-accused and lawyers. "I tried to yell out the open window ... and as I did, one of the female officers struck me with her elbow on the lower right side over the kidney. I could hardly breathe it hurt so much ... I started to cry ... and they laughed at me," she alleges. Police accused her of being a terrorist and didn't allow her to call a lawyer or the Canadian Embassy, she said. Vanier said she was also denied access to the bathroom for hours and not given medical attention. Mexican authorities allege Vanier was the ringleader who tried to smuggle the slain Libyan dictator's son, Saadi Gadhafi, and his family into the country by falsifying documents, opening bank accounts and purchasing real estate. Vanier, a vacation property owner in Mexico, said she was in the country with her husband looking to buy property. Police questioned her about her real-estate hunting. Further suspicion arose because Vanier travelled to Libya in July for the engineering firm SNC-Lavalin with a former Gadhafi staffer as her bodyguard. Three other people, two from Mexico and a man from Denmark, have been detained as alleged accomplices. "I have suffered physical, mental and emotional abuse and trauma, and my rights as a Canadian citizen have been violated based on my international human rights as well as the Mexican constitution," she wrote.