Friday, November 25, 2011
Biased Canadian Report & Saving Saadi
Pro-Gaddafi report resulted from privately-funded Canadian fact-finding mission
Stewart Bell Nov 25, 2011 – 6:00 AM ET | Last Updated: Nov 24, 2011 8:59 PM ET
The report of a privately-funded Canadian fact-finding mission that traveled to Libya last summer as Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was clinging to power was one-sided and reflected a view of the conflict that the regime was actively promoting, according to those familiar with its contents.
The Vanier Consulting study was impartially titled “Fact Finding Report — Mission Date July 17, 2011-July 26, 2011,” but several people who have seen it called it pro-Gaddafi and said it claimed NATO forces and Libyan rebels had committed atrocities and war crimes.
Following the fact-finding mission, the consultant, Cynthia Vanier, was mysteriously arrested in Mexico City along with two partners of the retired U.S. Marine who supplied the plane for the Libya trip. The RCMP has also questioned at least two of those who took part in the expedition.
Based partly on the consultant’s tour of sites around Tripoli that had been bombed by NATO warplanes, the report was distributed to several Canadian organizations including the Department of Foreign Affairs, which received an unsolicited copy in the first week of August.
At the time, the remnants of the Gaddafi regime were holed up in the capital, under siege by rebels and trying to undermine NATO by claiming air strikes were killing large numbers of civilians, but there is no evidence the report had any impact on Canadian policy.
At a tribute Thursday to Canadian Forces members who took part in the Libya campaign, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the Gaddafi regime a “brutal and psychotic” dictatorship and said the United Nations and NATO had to step in to prevent mass killings.
SNC-Lavalin, the Montreal engineering and construction firm, which has several large contracts in Libya, acknowledged last week it had hired Vanier Consulting to report on the findings of its Libya mission but it is unclear whether other financiers also bankrolled the mission.
“This is a very interesting case which we urge the Canadian public and government to explore,” the Canada Libya Council said in a statement. “These cases are critical in Canada’s future involvement with Libya, particularly the corporation’s future investments in the country.”
Mexican police and prosecutors have not said why they are holding Ms. Vanier or her associates, who were allegedly planning to meet in Mexico City. Mexico can detain suspects for up to 40 days while they investigate. The Canadian embassy in Mexico City is monitoring the case.
Ms. Vanier is a mediator from Mount Forest, Ont., who works mostly on First Nations issues. Her resume does not indicate she has any significant experience in war zones. But in July she put together a small Libyan fact-finding team that traveled on a private jet.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper called Muammar Gaddafi's regime a “brutal and psychotic” dictatorship.
Her security team was led by an Ontario private security contractor and former Australian soldier named Gary Peters who says he has been a Gaddafi family bodyguard since 2004 and helped three of Gaddafi’s children, Saadi, Hannibal and Ayisha, get out of Libya last summer.
The translator was Mahmod Razwan, president of the Canadian Libyan Friendship Association. The plane and pilots were contracted from Veritas Worldwide Security, a U.S. company whose website offers such services as provision of weapons and clandestine operations.
Libya was then under United Nations-imposed sanctions that prohibited any financial dealings with senior government members or the Gaddafi family. Ms. Vanier has said she did not violate any sanctions. Mr. Peters also said he broke no laws.
SNC-Lavalin said it had hired Vanier Consulting because the engineering giant was monitoring the security situation in Libya on behalf of the employees it hopes to return to the country to complete its construction projects. It said it was unaware Mr. Peters was involved in the fact-finding mission. It declined to say how much it had paid Vanier.
The descriptions of the consultant’s report are consistent with what Mr. Peters has said — that the expedition documented atrocities supposedly committed by the NATO forces and the National Transitional Council (NTC) rebel fighters who went on to topple Gaddafi.
“I went over there a while back with a fact finding tour which was really good for both sides to try and expose what’s going on over there,” Mr. Peters said in an interview last month. “I am neither pro-Gaddafi or -NTC. But what I saw when I was over there, it’s changing my mind real fast. I’ve seen some things over there and videos of stuff that the NTC were doing in Bengazi, which if it had become public would have turned especially Canada away.”
He said NATO had bombed private residences rather than just anti-aircraft defences and other military targets. “We went to 72 bomb sites throughout the place and out of the 72 only eight were military installations.”
But Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch, who toured several NATO bomb sites in August, said while civilian deaths did occur, Libyan authorities had grossly exaggerated the numbers and had tampered with the sites for public relations purposes.
“We saw signs of doctoring at those sites we did. For example we saw baby bottles that were placed strategically atop rubble,” he said, adding medicines and toys had also been planted. “I remember seeing stuffed animals placed delicately atop the ruins.”
He said Human Rights Watch had interviewed a senior Libyan official, now in custody, who had admitted the regime had deliberately inflated civilian deaths caused by NATO. “It’s no surprise, we see that in any war,” he said. “What was surprising was how sloppily they did it.”
Canadian with ties to Libya arrested in Mexico
A Canadian who led a fact-finding mission to Libya last summer has been arrested in Mexico, and two partners of the U.S. private security contractor who supplied her plane are also in custody.
The Department of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa confirmed the arrest of Cynthia Vanier and said consular officials at the Canadian embassy in Mexico City were gathering information from local authorities.
Also arrested were two partners of Gregory Gillispie, an ex-Marine who heads Veritas Worldwide Security, a San Diego-based company that offers, among other services, “clandestine operations,” “armed combat” and provision of weapons.
Mr. Gillispie said in an interview his partners were supposed to meet Ms. Vanier and her financier in Mexico City so she could hand over the roughly US$40,000 she owed for a small private jet Veritas had provided for her Libyan trip in July.
“Probably I guess about 10 days to two weeks ago she called and said that the person that has the authority to write the cheques, in other words the person that would pay her, is going to be in Mexico City, if we could come down there, we’ll get paid,” he said.
Lee Berthiaume/Postmedia News files
Mahmod Razwan said he went to Libya with Cynthia Vanier to assess humanitarian needs in the country.
“So two of my other partners went down there to meet Cindy and this financier, is what you’d call him. And now I’m being told that my two partners have been incarcerated,” he said. “I don’t understand what this is all about.”
He said he found out about the arrests on Sunday but isn’t sure when they occurred. He said the detained men are his business partners in an aviation brokerage company. He doesn’t know why they are being held. “They’re basically victims of circumstance.”
Mexican prosecutors did not respond by deadline to questions about why Ms. Vanier was being held. Her lawyer, Paul Copeland, said he also did not know. “I am aware that my client is in custody in Mexico. I do not at this point have any details as to the basis of her arrest. I am waiting to near from the lawyers in Mexico.”
Ms. Vanier runs Vanier Consulting Ltd., incorporated in 2009 in Mount Forest, Ont. The company website describes her as a negotiator, mediator, fact-finder and consultant who works mostly with First Nations.
Gary Peters provided security on Mahmod Razwan's and Cynthia Vanier's trip.
It also says she has international experience in anti-terrorism and as a “negotiator in complex multi-cultural issues and hostage taking situations in Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Bahamas and elsewhere.”
During the anti-Gaddafi revolution in Libya, she got a contract from an undisclosed financier to travel to Tripoli on a fact-finding expedition and began assembling a team. Mr. Gillispie said his company was contracted to supply a private plane for the trip.
The Veritas website says Mr. Gillispie has a background in special forces and has been awarded the Purple Heart. It describes him as “a highly decorated, repeatedly proven combat leader.” He said he provided Vanier use of the jet and two Mexican pilots for just over $80,000.
Mahmod Razwan, a Windsor, Ont., insurance broker and president and founder of the Canadian Libyan Friendship Association, also said he was contacted by Ms. Vanier, who asked him to join the expedition as a translator.
“They came and they said, ‘Yes, we work with Foreign Affairs and with United Nations and we could help there.’ And I said, ‘That’s fine, anybody wants to help these poor people I’ll be more than happy to assist.’ And that’s exactly what took place.”
Mr. Razwan said the purpose of the trip was to assess humanitarian needs. He said he did not know who paid for it. “It’s not my business,” he said. “If you invited me for a coffee … I’m not going to say how you going to pay for it, with Mastercard or Visa?”
Security for the trip was provided by Gary Peters, CEO of Can/Aust Security and Investigations International in Cambridge, Ont. A former Australian soldier, Mr. Peters has been a member of the Gaddafi family’s security team.
They boarded the jet in Ontario. Before crossing the Atlantic, the plane put down in Gander, Nfld., and Mr. Razwan said Canadian authorities spent considerable time talking to him and the Mexican pilots.
Mr. Razwan said he had once been on the U.S. “no-fly” list but said that was routine and his name had been removed. “That’s normal, many Libyans are,” he said of being on the list. “It was deleted now so I’m OK.”
Eventually allowed to proceed, their route took them to Pristina, Kosovo and Tunis, Tunisia. In Tripoli, Mr. Razwan said the team met Libyans and toured sites that had been bombed by NATO warplanes.
He said the fact-finding team and its security detail were well behaved and Libyans were glad to see them. “I felt privileged to be part of a group that I believed was ultimately there for humanitarian purposes.”
Mr. Razwan said he left the mission after two days and spent the rest of the trip visiting family. Tripoli was then mostly controlled by pro-Gaddafi forces but Mr. Razwan said he went to rebel-held areas as well. “Why not? As far as I was concerned they were all Libyans after all.” He said he was not paid for the trip.
After he returned to Canada, Mr. Razwan said he was questioned by RCMP officers in Windsor. “They came to me and they were very nice people, asking questions,” he said of the police. He said they had asked him about Mr. Peters, among other topics.
Mr. Peters returned to Canada on the jet but said he went back to Libya in August and helped Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saadi escape Tripoli to Niger in a convoy. He said he was caught in an ambush after crossing back into Libya and was shot in the shoulder.
Ms. Vanier said in an email to the National Post last month that Mr. Peters had been hired “to provide security and close protection for my fact finding mission in July. Saadi Gaddafi did not fund any of the work that I have done.
“Since I was the fact finder I have full knowledge of who my client is and can confirm that no funds have ever been provided by anyone on an asset freeze or travel ban list. As had been requested I provided a report to a branch of the Canadian government upon my return.” She did not say which branch or who had financed the trip.
According to Mr. Gillispie, he has so far been paid only half the agreed-upon amount for brokering the plane. “We’ve tried and tried and tried to get paid,” he said. “She always gives us this story that she’s working for the Canadian government, she works for the UN, and they’re the ones that control the purse strings.”
Then she contacted him to say the financier, whom she referred to as the “vice-president,” was to be in Mexico City and if they could all meet, Mr. Gillispie would get paid, he said. He said his partners were already planning to be there at that time so he agreed.
“On the surface that sounds kind of unusual, but we do a lot of business in Mexico and we’re there quite frequently,” he said. “It wasn’t like bells and whistles were going off.”
Members of Canada’s Libyan community are calling on the federal government to launch an investigation into whether an Ontario-based private security consultant broke international laws and sanctions by helping one of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s sons flee the country for Niger as NATO forces bombed Tripoli last month.
“There’s the quite the possibility that laws were broken internationally in this and we’re really hoping that the Canadian government takes it seriously,” said Nada Basir of the Canadian Libyan Council. “The Canadian government was part of the NATO mission and they pushed for it and supported the NATO mission and to have someone on Canadian soil defy it, goes against Canadian morals and the troops that were fighting in this mission.”
The organization issued a statement Sunday evening calling for a federal investigation after Gary Peters, an Australian private security contractor living in Cambridge, Ont., told the National Post he worked as the longtime bodyguard of Col. Gaddafi’s son Saadi and helped smuggle the dictator’s third son across the border to Niger as part of an international security team.
The group said Mr. Peters may have violated a UN Security Council travel ban on Saadi, who is also the subject of an Interpol arrest warrant to be extradited to Libya for alleged crimes as part of his time as the head of the Libyan Football Federation.
The UN also froze the assets of members of the Gaddafi family, including Saadi. But Mr. Peters said family members still had access to money and paid cash for three brand-new, bullet-proof Land Rovers.
“Through his actions, Mr. Peters assisted the Gaddafi family in breaking international laws and may be in contravention of international law himself by potentially aiding and abetting war crimes and conducting business with the Gaddafis while UN sanctions were in place,” the organization wrote.
Mr. Peters said the three-car convoy was attacked on its return to Libya and he was shot and later hospitalized after discovering his injuries during a flight back to Toronto. RCMP officers interviewed him, he said, but he has never been charged. Mr. Peters said he also took part in a “fact-finding mission” that left from Kitchener, Ont. in July for Libya. The trip, to survey the damage caused by NATO air strikes in Libya and financed by Saadi, was detained in Gander, Nfld., but was later allowed to proceed, Mr. Peters said.
Blair Gable / Reuters
Canada's Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews
Officials in the offices of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird refused to comment on Mr. Peters, referring the matter to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and noting that Canada lifted its sanctions against Libya, including a ban on arms sales and military and technical consultants, in September. Officials with Mr. Toews office refused to comment. Citizenship and Immigration officials said they wouldn’t disclose Mr. Peters’ immigration status without his consent.
Canadians who get involved with military conflicts overseas, whether as volunteers or paid security consultants, can put Canada’s security and reputation at risk if their actions are seen internationally as the country’s support dictators or terrorist regimes, said David Harris, former chief of strategic planning for CSIS, now director of the international and terrorist intelligence program at Insignis Strategic Research in Ottawa.
The federal government, he said, should investigate not only Mr. Peters, but all Canadians who worked for the Gaddafi regime or risk sending the wrong message to Canadians who sympathize with terrorist groups in other countries, such as Somali-Canadian youth who have been recruited by militant group Al-Shabab.
“What message might some young people get if they hear that a Canadian-based individual has been apparently free to drift at his or her leisure through the ranks of Gaddafi’s security related machine?” Mr. Harris asked. “Apart from the legal issues, what sorts of moral position are we going to be in to insist that such folk themselves not engage in what they may consider to be appropriate military or paramilitary efforts but this time with individuals or groups that would really quite like to destroy Canadians?
CAMBRIDGE, Ont. – A private security contractor and former soldier from Canada has admitted he helped Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saadi flee Libya last month as Tripoli was falling to anti-Gaddafi rebels.
Gary Peters is president of Can/Aus Security & Investigations International Inc. in Cambridge, Ont. He is also Saadi Gaddafi’s longtime bodyguard and admitted he was part of a team that drove the late dictator’s third son across Libya’s southern border to Niger.
The convoy was ambushed after it had crossed back into Libya and Mr. Peters was shot. He returned to Toronto’s Pearson airport in September, bleeding heavily from an untreated bullet wound to his left shoulder.
“I got hurt over there so I come back,” he said when approached this week by aNational Post reporter. He said he had been providing security to members of the Gaddafi family since 2004 and had continued to do so throughout the NATO campaign against the dictator. He worked mostly for Saadi but said he had also briefly guarded Col. Gaddafi’s sons Saif al-Islam and Hannibal.
Before helping Saadi flee to Niger, Mr. Peters said he had escorted Hannibal and Col. Gaddafi’s daughter Ayesha from Libya to Algeria in a convoy. His account of working for the Gaddafis was verified by several sources.
“I’m not a mercenary,” he said. “I work for a person in particular, have done for years, for close protection. When we go overseas, I don’t fight. That’s what a mercenary does. Defend? Yes. Shoot? Yes. But for defence, for my boss, and that’s what happened. The convoy got attacked and two of us got hit.”
After Mr. Peters had delivered Saadi to Niger, he returned to Libya, where gunmen opened fire on his three-vehicle convoy, he said. Five of the attackers were killed during the firefight and he was also hit.
He said he made his way to Tunisia and Frankfurt, then got on a flight to Toronto.
“I bled on the plane. I fell asleep and when I wake up … I felt a trickle and there was blood everywhere. There was a little bit of shrapnel in there.”
He got as far as the airport parking lot before he began to teeter from blood loss. He was taken to a nearby hospital to have the shrapnel removed. The RCMP spoke to him.
Canada has enacted UN sanctions imposing an arms embargo on Libya, and freezing the assets of Gaddafi family members, including Saadi, but Mr. Peters has not been charged with any crimes.
“I broke no laws,” he said. “But they have to investigate, which is fine.”
The NATO-backed anti-Gaddafi rebels have long alleged the dictator was being propped up by mercenaries, mostly from neighbouring African countries as well as Eastern Europe. But Mr. Peters’ story shows the family also employed Western security specialists, some from Canada.
It also indicates Saadi, the 38-year-old soccer-loving playboy of the Gaddafi clan, had taken steps to move himself and his family to North America as his father’s rule began to falter, although the escape plan was thwarted.
Mr. Peters said Saadi intended to flee to a property that had been purchased in Mexico, but that fell through. He also wanted to come to Canada, but Mr. Peters said that also did not work out, so he ended up in Niger.
“He loves Canada, that’s why he keeps coming back here, every year,” Mr. Peters said.
“He’s got investments here, he’s got property here. He wants to [move to Canada], but I was warned by RCMP that if he comes here they’ll arrest him straight away, I don’t know why.”
Interpol issued an arrest warrant for Saadi on Sept. 29 for allegedly “misappropriating properties through force and armed intimidation” when he was head of the Libyan soccer team. He is also subject to a UN travel ban and assets freeze for being “the commander of military units allegedly involved in repression of demonstrations by civilians during Libya’s uprising.”
But Mr. Peters denied that.
“If he was a mass murderer then obviously I wouldn’t work for him,” he said. “The man’s a gentleman, non-violent. They said that he’s the leader of a military unit. Bulls—, he’s not.”
He said while Col. Gaddafi, whom he said he had met, was “very intimidating” and “very hostile,” Saadi was a “very nice man, very educated, very nice guy. However don’t piss them off, very revengeful people.”
Sturdy and 5 ft. 5, with a pencil-thin moustache, brushcut and an Australian special forces army tattoo on his forearm, Mr. Peters goes by the nickname “Shorty.” He refers to Saadi as “The Boss.” He said since his return to Canada he had continued to speak regularly with Saadi by phone.
He said he supported neither the Gaddafi regime nor the National Transitional Council, but believed Canada had backed the wrong side in the conflict. He accused the rebels of committing atrocities and said NATO had bombed civilian homes.
“I’m not political. This is my boss, he’s also a client, also a friend,” Mr. Peters said.
“It’s difficult but you have your own principles too, right? My morals say that I’ve got to stand by him.”
He said he was returning to Niger this weekend.
But he said he had paid a price for his loyalty to the boss. The word “dog” was scratched on his car, he said. He believes he is being followed.
“All my clients I had here, they’ve all gone. They all boycotted, which is fine.”
Asked why, he said, “because of who I work for, and that I’m continuing to work for him. People talk.”
Saadi is known for his lavish party lifestyle and his role as captain of the Libyan national soccer team, a position some suggest he did not earn through his skill on the field. He was also captain of the Tripoli soccer club and president of the Libyan Football Federation.
Mr. Peters said he was serving in the Royal Australian Army when he first met Saadi. The Gaddafi son was visiting the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney and Mr. Peters was assigned to protect him, he said.
Mr. Peters moved to Canada in 2002 (he is a landed immigrant, not a Canadian citizen) and worked “on and off” for the next two years as a close protection operative for the security company Blackwater USA.
His website says he has worked as a private investigator and close protection officer in Canada, the U.S. and Middle East. It says he is a certified executive protection specialist and member in good standing of the International Association of Security Professionals.
“Mr. Peters has provided protection and care for a significant amount of dignitaries, royalty and celebrities and is well acquainted with dealing with the various types of personalities from around the world in different locations and situations,” it reads.
A second on-line profile said he had received training in Israel and worked for Garda World in 2008-09. Ontario government records show Can/Aus Security was incorporated in 2009. No directors or officers are named in the corporate records.
When Saadi visited the Toronto International Film Festival, Mr. Peters led his security detail. According to another private security consultant familiar with the visit, Saadi spent much of his time with prostitutes.
Mr. Peters said he was in Libya when the anti-Gaddafi uprising began. He was in Libya every month after that until he was shot. He said he had no qualms about working for the Gaddafis, even after Canada joined the NATO campaign against the dictatorship.
“For starters, I haven’t worked for Saif for probably three years now. I only work for Saadi. Saadi’s principles or whatever, he disagrees with how his father went about it. He’s anti that, but being Muammar, you can’t say no to him.”
In July, Mr. Peters took part in a “fact-finding mission” to Libya. A Cambridge consultant was hired to conduct a survey of the damage caused by NATO air strikes. Mr. Peters assembled the security team that was to accompany her.
A plane chartered in Mexico flew to the Kitchener, Ont., airport to pick up the consultant, the security team and their gear. It was stopped by Canadian authorities in Gander, Nfld., but eventually allowed to proceed.
The consultant toured 72 sites bombed by NATO, and only eight were military installations, he said.
“The media say they bombed this and that and they took out anti-aircraft. That’s all crap. It’s all garbage.”
But Mr. Peters said the fact-finding mission was financed by Saadi in an attempt to get out a side of the Libya story he felt was not being covered by the media.
Mr. Peters returned to Libya for the last time in August. He said he was the only Canadian on Saadi’s security team. The others were from Australia, New Zealand, Iraq and Russia, all former special forces’ members.
He said they had planned to take Saadi out of the country on a day they had heard the Niger border would not be patrolled, but they could not wait.
“We decided to go right now, and when we got across the border they were being patrolled, that’s why we got pulled over.”
Authorities in Niger stopped the convoy on Sept. 11, but allowed Saadi to stay on humanitarian grounds. He is believed to be living under house arrest in a luxurious villa next to the presidential palace in the capital Niamey.
“He’s comfortable,” Mr. Peters said. “He’s in a 3½-acre compound. He’s fine. He’s waiting for his movements to be allowed. So he’s not going to move yet. The reason is, he wants to travel when this is all over. If he moves now and he’s got a no movement ban on him, it’ll make it difficult later.”
Saadi said in a statement from his lawyer this week he was “shocked and outraged by the vicious brutality which accompanied the murders of his father and brother.”
Mr. Peters said the fight for Libya was not over.
“People say, ‘Oh, it’s going to settle down, everyone’s got to pull out.’ Don’t believe it’s going to settle down because there are still three brothers there that are very, very angry. And three brothers that have a lot of money.
“And they’ve still got that money. We just purchased, brand-new, three Land Rovers, bullet-proof. We paid cash for it. That means there’s money around.”