Jailed Canadian in Gadhafi rescue plot wants former employer to pay up

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

There's a kind of Mission Impossible vibe to the relationship between Cyndy Vanier and SNC-Lavalin, the Montreal-based international engineering giant enmeshed in allegations of corruption and consorting with dictators.

Vanier, a Canadian consultant who worked for SNC-Lavalin, has been languishing in a Mexican prison for more than a year while a judge there decides if she was part of a plot to spirit Saadi Gadhafi out of Libya as his father's dictatorship crumbled under a rebel onslaught in 2011.

According to CBC News, Vanier insists she was hired by SNC-Lavalin controller Stephane Roy, under orders from executive vice-president Riadh Ben Alissa, for a legitimate "fact-finding" trip to Libya.

Mexican authorities allege she was helping set up an exit route for Gadhafi, a senior commander in father Muammar Gadhafi's regime, and smuggle him and his family into Mexico under false identities. Gadhafi eventually escaped to Niger, Libya's neighbour, and has been given asylum.

[ Related: Saadi Gadhafi's bodyguard battling deportation ]

But SNC claims Roy and Ben Alissa were rogue executives. Both resigned last year and Ben Alissa was arrested in Switzerland on charges of illegally funnelling $160 million in company money to Saadi Gadhafi.

Vanier claims SNC still owes her a lot of money for the work she did in Libya, CBC News said.

"I had a legal contract with SNC," she told CBC News from prison. "They should honour their contract.

"I always believed they were an honourable, reputable company."

But an SNC spokesperson said the company doesn't owe her a thing.

"To the best of our knowledge, Ben Aïssa did not act with the approval of anyone else in the organization in his hiring of Ms. Vanier for any purpose," Leslie Quinton told CBC News via email.

"The only evidence we have of a legitimate contract was for the supposed fact-finding visit for the return of employees, which has been paid in full.

"Since this is a legal matter, we cannot say any more."

I get this picture in my head of Jim Phelps in the old Mission Impossible TV show listening to the taped warning from his handler that if he or any of his team are caught or killed "the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions."

We won't know until all the evidence comes out whether this is a case of what the CIA used to call plausible deniability, putting an operative at arm's length from the controlling organization in case anything goes wrong.

The RCMP's search warrant applications in its investigation of SNC, unsealed late last month, allege investigators believe Vanier's fact-finding mission to help company employees prepare to leave Libya during the uprising was a cover for her real mission.

"I have reasonable grounds to believe that the real reason for [Vanier’s 'fact finding' mission to Libya for SNC-Lavalin] was to plan for and facilitate the extraction of S. Gadhafi and his family from Libya to Mexico using false identities," Cpl. Brenda Makad swore in an affidavit to obtain a warrant to search SNC's files last spring.

CBC News also noted Makad interviewed Vanier in jail about the $1.9 million in fees paid to her by Lavalin and claims she met with Roy in Mexico shortly before her arrest to discuss possible water-purifiation projects there.

"I have a reasonable basis to believe the true goal of the meeting in Mexico wasn't to discuss water purification projects, but planning for the clandestine movement of S. Gadhafi and his family to Mexico," Makad said in her affidavit, according to CBC News.

[ Related: Canadian accused in Gadhafi plot makes final court statement ]

Confronted with these allegations, Vanier did some disavowing of her own.

"It's an affidavit about SNC—it wasn’t about me," Vanier told CBC News.

But in its report on the unsealed warrant affidavits, the National Post noted Roy sent Vanier a scanned copy of Gadhafi's Libyan passport. Three days letters one of her Mexican co-accused sent her an email promising to send his Gadhafi's birth certificate and warned that photos would require work. Vanier then forwarded the email to Roy, adding "moving mountains here," and requesting money be sent "asap."