MEXICO CITY (AP) – Prosecutors said Wednesday they broke up not one, but two Indiana Jones-style plots to “extract” the son of late dictator Moammar Gadhafi from Libya and bring him to Mexico as his father’s regime crumbled.
The plan to sneak out al-Saadi Gadhafi involved piles of stolen passports, white-knuckle flights with pilots who refused to land in war-torn Libya and luxury homes bought under false names in Mexico, Assistant Attorney General Jose Cuitlahuac Salinas said.
He said it was led by a Canadian woman, a Danish man and two Mexican suspects who were charged this week with attempted immigrant trafficking, falsifying documents and organized crime.
Salinas said the group hired pilots to fly from Mexico to Kosovo, from there to the Tunisian capital of Tunis and on to Libya in July, but that attempt failed to extract the dictator’s son.
“They weren’t able to do it out because the pilots refused to carry out a secret landing,” Salinas said.
The ring then allegedly made arrangements for a second attempt, hiring pilots and a plane. But Mexican authorities were tipped off to the scheme by a series of anonymous e-mails and arrested the four suspects in November, before the second flight could take off.
The suspects were detained in November and held under form of house arrest until last week, when they were formally charged. Because they have not been ordered held over for trial, they have not entered pleas, nor do they have lawyers of record.
Authorities have said that Canadian Cynthia Vanier was the alleged ringleader of the plan, and the Danish man, identified as Pierre Christian Flensborg, was “the logistic liaison.”
Salinas said the story began in 2009, when 4,586 blank Mexican passport forms were stolen in Mexico City. Apparently, the ring got hold of some of those blank passports. It had also discussed what false names to use for al-Saadi and his family, he said.
He said Vanier had a false Mexican passport and birth certificate in her own name when she was detained in November; the documents were apparently used to open bank accounts. Vanier, 52, has been identified in Canadian news media as a former mediator for Indian tribes from Mount Forest, Ontario.
The suspects also reportedly arranged to acquire properties where al-Saadi Gadhafi and his relatives were to have lived under false identities once they arrived in Mexico.
Those properties included a $1.25 million dollar apartment at the St. Regis, a hotel and residential tower on Mexico City’s leafy Reforma boulevard. The hotel’s website describes its 24-hour room service and butlers, and says “St. Regis Residences offer a unique opportunity to expand your incomparable lifestyle.”
They had allegedly made arrangements to buy that apartment but the deal had not yet gone through, prosecutors said.
The conspirators had also allegedly made a $57,000 down payment on a home at a coastal development near the Pacific coast resort of Puerto Vallarta.
The beachfront house, whose total cost was not clear, sports an ornate double car port, a swimming pool and direct beach access, according to photos of the property at the address listed by prosecutors. Vallarta & Beyond, a real estate company that once represented the sellers, said the house had been for sale at a a price of around $600,000.
Prosecutors said Wednesday that a fifth suspect, who they would not identify, was still at large.
In December, Gary Peters, the director of the Canada-based Can/Aust Security & Investigations International Inc., told The Associated Press that he had worked as al-Saadi’s North America security chief in Canada, and that Vanier had been involved in efforts to get him into Mexico.
Peters said Vanier’s role was to get travel documents for Gadhafi’s son, but he said the arrangements were legitimate, as far as he knew.
“It wasn’t smuggling,” he said. The plan, Peters said, “was to help him get there on humanitarian rights.”
“I don’t know where these documents were coming from; that was all Cindy’s area. I was just doing security,” Peters said.
“As far as I knew, the contacts that she was talking to, they weren’t going to be false, they were going to be legitimate documents.” But he added he didn’t know whether al-Saadi’s name would appear on the passports. “I don’t know whose name, I don’t know, that wasn’t my area.”
Prosecutors described the anonymously emailed tip in a slide presentation along an image of the Guy Fawkes mask. The image of Fawkes, a 17th century English revolutionary, has become a symbol of the Internet network “Anonymous,” which has claimed credit for internet hacking around the world. They did not explain that connection.
A Twitter account linked to the Anonymous IberoAmerica website, which has carried comments from the movement in Mexico in the past, did not immediately respond to queries about whether the Anonymous movement was responsible for blowing the whistle on the plot.
In December, a lawyer for al-Saadi Gadhafi denied that his client plotted to sneak illegally into Mexico.
Al-Saadi Gadhafi, who is known for his love of professional soccer, playboy lifestyle and run-ins with police in Europe, never made it to Mexico, but did reach the Western African country of Niger, where he has been living.
The elder Gadhafi ruled Libya with an eccentric brutality for nearly 42 years before he was ousted by an uprising in August. He was captured and killed in October, along with his son Muatassim. Killed earlier in the civil war were younger brothers Seif al-Arab and Khamis. Another son, Seif al-Islam, was captured in Libya in November. Their mother, Safiya, and sister Aisha fled to neighboring Algeria.
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