A photo of the Hawker jet, owned by Christian Esquino, that flew Canadian Cynthia Vanier to North Africa last July. This photo was taken at the airport in Djerba, Tunisia during Ms. Vanier’s expedition
By Stewart Bell and Natalie Alcoba
MEXICO CITY — Hounded by U.S. drug enforcement agents who suspected he was tied to the ultra-violent Tijuana cartel, Christian Esquino was deported to Mexico in 2007 after almost 25 years in southern California.
Now the 49-year-old Mexican businessman has emerged as a central witness in his government’s case against a Canadian and three others accused of plotting to smuggle members of Libya’s infamous Gaddafi family to Mexico.
Mexican court records show that Mr. Esquino, who owns a jet service that flies out of Toluca de Lerdo, 65 kilometres west of Mexico City, told a federal agent on Jan. 9 that he had rented his planes to the suspects last year.
While he testified he did not initially know why his planes were being flown to Canada and then on to North Africa, he said the suspects told his pilots they might have to land on a road in Libya for an “emergency extraction.” Eventually, he testified, he was told his aircraft were to be used to smuggle dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Saadi, to Mexico.
Mr. Esquino’s testimony to the Ministerio Publico de la Federacion is not the only evidence cited in court documents that detail the government’s case but it appears to be a critical piece of the puzzle, linking the suspects to an alleged Gaddafi smuggling conspiracy.
Mexican authorities announced last December they had arrested Cynthia Vanier of Mount Forest, Ont., and her alleged associates, Gabriela de Cueto, Pierre Flensborg and Jose Luis Kennedy Prieto. All four were charged last month.
Details of the evidence have not been officially released, but documents obtained by the National Post show the government’s case relies notably on the testimony of Mr. Esquino, a former San Diego resident with a criminal past who runs several companies that own small jets that fly government and corporate clients.
“Christian is absolutely twisting the story,” said Gregory Gillispie, the owner of Veritas Worldwide Security and GG Global Holdings, the San Diego-based company that brokered the planes from Mr. Esquino on behalf of Ms. Vanier. Ms. Cueto and Mr. Flensborg are associated with GG Global Holdings.
Mr. Gillispie said the emergency extraction plan was not a plot to fly the dictator’s family out of Libya. It was simply a contingency plan in case members of Ms. Vanier’s team were injured. Asked if he felt Mr. Esquino was the source of his colleagues’ legal troubles in Mexico, he replied, “Yes, 110 per cent I feel that.”
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