MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico uncovered and stopped an international plot to smuggle late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saadi into the country using fake names and false papers, authorities said Wednesday.
A Canadian woman, a Danish man and two Mexicans were arrested on November 10 and 11 over an elaborate plan to bring Saadi Gaddafi, who is now in Niger, and his family to Mexico using forged documents, safe houses and private flights, they said.
Mexican officials acted on a tip in September about the network, which planned to settle the family near the popular tourist spot of Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coast, Interior Minister Alejandro Poire said.
In preparation for the family’s arrival, the criminal ring bought properties around Mexico and opened bank accounts. It also arranged for private flights to smuggle in the family and set up identities under assumed names, including Moah Bejar Sayed and Amira Sayed Nader, authorities said.
The plotters themselves used a network of flights between Mexico, the United States, Canada, Kosovo and the Middle East to plan the route and organize the logistics for Saadi’s arrival, Poire said.
“Mexican officials ... succeeded in avoiding this risk, they dismantled the international criminal network which was attempting this and they arrested those presumed responsible,” he told a news conference.
The plan was to bring Saadi - a businessman and former professional soccer player - and his family to a multimillion-dollar estate in Punta Mita, the Canadian newspaper National Post reported.
Punta Mita is a swanky area with luxury hotels about 25 miles from Puerto Vallarta.
The Canadian woman, Cynthia Ann Vanier, was the ringleader of the plot and directly in touch with the Gaddafi family, Mexican authorities said.
They said the Danish man, Pierre Christian Flensborg, was in charge of logistics. The Mexican suspects were identified as Jose Luis Kennedy Prieto and Gabriela Davila Huerta, also known as de Cueto.
Mexico, fighting to contain raging drug-related violence, has broken some major cartels into smaller criminal gangs that may be willing to help international criminals and militants, said one academic who specializes in regional security issues.
“Mexico ... has a reputation deservedly or not for lawlessness and so it was probably a calculation that if you go to Mexico ... you can get away and hide out,” said David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego.
Saadi Gaddafi’s lawyer Nick Kaufman said his client was still in Niger, where he fled as his father’s 42-year rule crumbled in August. Niger has said he would remain in the West African nation until a United Nations travel ban is lifted.
“He is fully respecting the restraints placed on him presently by the international community,” Kaufman told Reuters.
Like many senior members of the Gaddafi regime, Saadi was banned from traveling and had his assets frozen by a U.N. Security Council resolution when violence erupted in Libya earlier this year.
Interpol has issued a “red notice” requesting member states to arrest Saadi with a view to extradition if they find him in their territory.
Reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez and Veronica Gomez; Additional reporting by Rachel Uranga in Mexico City and Christian Lowe in Algiers; Writing by Krista Hughes; Editing by John O'Callaghan