May 26th, 2024

RCMP alleges two former UN workers in Montreal tried to sell military drones in Libya

By Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press on April 23, 2024.

Mahmud Mohamed Elsuwaye Sayeh is shown in an RCMP handout photo. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police say two former United Nations employees in Montreal have been charged with taking part in a conspiracy to illegally sell Chinese-made drones and other military equipment to Libya. THE CANADIAN PRESS /HO-RCMP **MANDATORY CREDIT**

MONTREAL – Two former United Nations employees in Montreal have been charged with participating in a conspiracy to sell Chinese-made drones that can carry multiple missiles, and other military equipment in Libya, the RCMP said Tuesday.

RCMP spokesman Sgt. Charles Poirier said the alleged offences occurred between 2018 and 2021, when the two men were working at the International Civil Aviation Organization, a UN agency headquartered in Montreal.

He said the two men – Fathi Ben Ahmed Mhaouek, 61, and Mahmud Mohamed Elsuwaye Sayeh, 37 – violated UN sanctions related to the Libyan civil war. The sanctions have the force of law in Canada by way of federal regulation.

“What we found is that through some shell companies, they attempted to sell this Chinese military equipment to Libya, which is a direct violation of the regulation,” Poirier said, adding that the military equipment included large drones that can carry multiple missiles.

Poirier said the regulation prohibits anyone in Canada from supplying military equipment to any of the factions that were fighting in the Libyan civil war, or helping to finance those groups. The alleged conspiracy, he said, would have benefited one of the two main factions in the conflict, which ended in 2020.

“The second part of this scheme was to export Libyan oil to China,” Poirier said. “So at the time, the oilfields were under the control of Gen. Khalifa Hiftar and the plan was to sell millions of drums of crude oil to China without anyone knowing about it.”

Hiftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army fought against Libya’s UN-backed government and held much of the country’s east during the civil war; he continues to be a powerful figure in that region.

Poirier said Mhaouek, a Canadian citizen, was arrested Tuesday morning at his home in the Montreal suburb of Ste-Catherine, Que., and was scheduled to appear in a Montreal court later in the day.

Mhaouek’s alleged accomplice remains on the run. An INTERPOL Red Notice – an alert sent to police around the world – and a Canada-wide warrant have been issued for Sayeh’s arrest.

Poirier said investigators have no indication that military equipment or crude oil ever reached their alleged final destinations, but he said if they had, the two co-conspirators stood to gain several million dollars a month in commissions.

“The theory behind the motivation is primarily financial,” he said. However, it would have also benefited China by allowing it to covertly support Hiftar’s faction and by giving the country prime access to Libyan oil.

Poirier said the investigation began in 2022 after the RCMP received what he described as “credible intelligence.”

Both men had diplomatic immunity due to their work with the UN, he said, adding that their immunity had to be waived by ICAO before the two men could be charged.

He said the UN organization, which sets international aviation standards, has been collaborating with the police investigation. “There’s no indication that ICAO was aware of the conspiracy until they were approached by us,” Poirier said.

He said police don’t know where Sayeh, a Libyan national, may be.

“He could be in Libya, but with the level of influence and the networking that these men had working at ICAO, he could be anywhere,” Poirier said.

The UN’s civil aviation agency said in an emailed statement that it is committed to upholding Canadian laws, UN standards and its own ethics code.

“ICAO is fully co-operating with the RCMP investigation of the individuals involved in the complaint, who left the organization a number of years ago,” the agency said. “ICAO strongly condemns any actions of individuals that are inconsistent with the organization’s values.”

The agency declined to comment further due to the ongoing judicial process.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 23, 2024.

– With files from The Associated Press.

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