CHETUMAL, Mexico — A Canadian woman held in Mexico has been formally charged in a plot to allegedly smuggle Moammar Gadhafi’s son into that country by arranging secret flights and falsifying passports.
The state attorney’s office in Mexico City said Wednesday charges had been laid against Cynthia Vanier, a mediator from Mount Forest, Ont., as well as two Mexicans and a Danish suspect.
“Her situation has changed, she is no longer detained pending charges, there has now been an arrest warrant,” Veronica Gil, a spokeswoman with the state’s attorney’s office, said. “We have established formal charges.”
An arrest warrant is out for a fifth suspect, she said, but that person is not being identified until police have him in custody.
The charges include attempted human trafficking, falsifying documents and organized crime.
The arrests, announced during a news conference in Mexico, stem from an investigation officials said began in 2009 over the theft of 4,586 blank Mexican passports.
Prosecutors allege the accused tried to sneak Gadhafi and his family into the country, renting an airplane to fly them to Mexico. The attempt was foiled, they say, because the pilots refused to land secretly.
The ring, purportedly led by Vanier, then allegedly made arrangements for a second attempt, hiring pilots and a plane. But Mexican authorities were tipped off to the scheme and arrested the four suspects in November.
All four had been held without charges for nearly three months.
Up until they were detained, authorities said, the group worked toward their goal of smuggling the family to Mexico, falsifying documents, obtaining credit and buying a home in Bahia de Banderas in the Nayarit area, where the Gadhafis were to hide out, as well as another apartment.
All of this was done, authorities allege, in exchange for a large sum of money.
“Once the initial detention order was lifted on Jan. 31, the arrest warrants were executed, the two female suspects were brought to the federal prison in Chetumal, Quintana Roo, and the two males to Veracruz, so that the corresponding federal judges could review their cases,” the state attorney’s office said in a statement.
Betty and John MacDonald, Vanier’s parents, said Wednesday their daughter was terrified after being moved.
“She does not have any of her medication with her there, there’s no running water in the cell where they are,” said John MacDonald. “It’s a horrible jail. She talked to her husband and all she said was: ’I’m scared, I’m terrified.”’
Vanier’s parents have vehemently denied the allegations against their daughter, and expressed frustration over the Canadian government’s lack of involvement.
“They say that they can’t intervene, but there is a provision for them to send people to investigate,” Betty MacDonald said.
A spokesman for Foreign Affairs said Canada would continue to interact with Mexican authorities on Vanier’s behalf “as required,” especially to ensure that her medical concerns are addressed.
“Ms. Vanier faces very serious allegations in Mexico including the falsification of documents, human trafficking and participating in organized crime,” said John Babcock, a spokesman for Diane Ablonczy, minister of state for foreign affairs.
“Canadian officials are providing her with consular assistance, but Canadians travelling abroad are subject to the laws in the countries they visit.”
He also said officials had received a report written by Vanier detailing her treatment after she was first arrested, but have not yet verified the allegations.
“Canadian officials are reviewing these allegations and will act accordingly,” he said.
In the six-page letter, Vanier describes how she was arrested along with a Mexican co-worker and asked about her work as well as a trip to Libya and accused of being a terrorist.
Later in the interrogation, Vanier writes, when she tried to signal to her friend, “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 said she urinated blood and threw up after being left in a cell for hours, but no one came to help.
“I thought I was going to die in there,” she wrote.
She also said she and her husband were in the process of buying a home when she was arrested, since their condominium in Mexico could not accommodate their dog.
Her parents say it’s that property that the authorities claim was meant to be the Gadhafi safe house.
Gadhafi has denied he was trying to enter Mexico. He fled Libya after the fall of his father’s regime and was given refugee status in Niger.