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Canadian assets owned by Ali Ibrahim Dabaiba are at the centre of a criminal investigation in Libya, according to investigators and documents obtained by The Globe and Mail.
They call it the Golden Square Mile. This historic downtown Montreal neighbourhood was once the wealthiest in Canada. Featuring Victorian mansions, fine restaurants and swanky shops, the district remains a purlieu of the city’s well-to-do.
It’s also where one of Libya’s most wanted has parked some of his allegedly ill-gotten gains.
Ali Ibrahim Dabaiba owns two suites in Les Résidences Mont-Royal, a building situated above a high-end shopping centre in the area. The apartments, together worth more than $1.6-million, are just some of the assets Mr. Dabaiba has amassed in Canada since he was a top aide to Libyan dictator Colonel Moammar Gadhafi.
Now, Mr. Dabaiba’s Canadian properties, businesses and investments are at the centre of a criminal investigation in Libya, where he is suspected of embezzling public funds, money laundering, abuse of an official position and making illegitimate payments and illicit profit, according to investigators and documents obtained by The Globe and Mail.
Mr. Dabaiba, who became a Canadian even while running a Libyan government agency, is among a number of former Gadhafi-era officials wanted for allegedly looting billions of dollars from public coffers during the dictator’s 42-year rule. The allegations, which have not been proven in court, stem from Mr. Dabaiba’s time as head of the Organization for Development of Administrative Centers (ODAC), Libya’s infrastructure contracting department, where he did business with numerous companies, including Montreal-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin Group Inc.
From 1989 to 2011, ODAC awarded more than 3,000 contracts worth 45.4-billion Libyan dinars ($43.4-billion), according to a Libyan government audit report and investigators who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media. Mr. Dabaiba is alleged to have taken a cut of those contracts and steered business to companies he owned or with which he was affiliated.
In the process, investigators believe Mr. Dabaiba pocketed extraordinary sums for himself and associates – the equivalent of $3.37-billion – while hiding large amounts in other countries, including Canada, and in some cases washing it through Canadian banks, businesses and real estate.
Citing privacy concerns, the RCMP won’t say if Mr. Dabaiba or the companies he’s associated with are under investigation in Canada.
A Globe investigation shows that Mr. Daibaba exploited a now-discredited immigration program to gain a Canadian passport. Though there’s no evidence he has ever worked in Canada, he appears to still use his citizenship when convenient – as recently as 2016 he cited it when trying to acquire control of a Scottish company.
Libya has requested Canada’s assistance on Mr. Dabaiba’s file. In March, 2015, Fathi Baja, Libya’s ambassador to Canada, wrote to the Department of Foreign Affairs (since renamed Global Affairs Canada), requesting that officials block the renewal of Mr. Dabaiba’s passport, which was set to expire on July 5, 2015. Because many countries do not require entry visas for Canadians, the letter said, Mr. Dabaiba could use the passport to evade justice.
Separately, Mr. Dabaiba is under investigation in Scotland on suspicion of money laundering.
“Police Scotland is currently conducting an enquiry into this case, and as this is a ‘live’ enquiry under the terms of Scotland’s Contempt of Court Act, it would be inappropriate to make any further comment at this time,” Detective Chief Inspector Jim Robertson of the economic crime and financial investigations unit said in a statement.
The Libyan and Scottish investigations come as Canada overhauls its anti-money laundering and terrorist financing legislation. In a 2016 review, the Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental body, found that cross-border movements of money are rarely analyzed by law enforcement. It concluded that Canada struggles to detect corruption and the laundering of money through real estate.
That long-standing truth may help explain why Mr. Dabaiba chose this country as a haven for his money in the first place.
Mr. Dabaiba set his sights on Canada in 1993, after he became a Gadhafi insider. He hired the Montreal-based immigration firm TIMC Inc., and wrote that he intended “to migrate to Canada as an entrepreneur.” He estimated the value of his personal assets at more than US$500,000.
“I have never been to Canada before,” he admitted in later correspondence.
His immigration plan was dubbed the “Canadian investment project” by his business associate Ahmed Lamlum, another Libyan who is alleged to have defrauded ODAC alongside Mr. Dabaiba. The two men planned to take advantage of the now-defunct federal immigrant investor program. By investing between $150,000 and $250,000, affluent immigrants could gain a fast track to Canadian citizenship.
Mr. Dabaiba and Mr. Lamlum each transferred $250,000 to Calgary-based Alberta International Capital, a government-approved syndicate for immigrant investors. The funds were held in an escrow account at a National Bank of Canada branch in Saskatoon, subject to the investor program’s five-year lock-in period. AIC Ltd. would eventually use the money to invest in such projects as the Radisson Plaza Hotel in Calgary, energy company Infiniti Resources International Inc. and the Hard Rock Cafe in Banff, Alta. Mr. Dabaiba and Mr. Lamlum would later transfer the interest earned on their Canadian investments to their accounts at Credit Suisse in Geneva.
On his immigration application, Mr. Dabaiba wrote that he had $825,615 in other transferable funds at his disposal. He listed his dependants as his spouse, Khadeeja Mohamed al-Dabeeba, and five children. Fluent in English, he marked his occupation as “business consultant” at Nuvest Consultancy Ltd., a position he had held since 1991, and “general manager” at ODAC. Both jobs were in Misrata, Libya, and he stated his gross monthly earnings as $16,100.
In early 1994, officials at the Canadian embassy in Cairo flagged deficiencies in Mr. Dabaiba’s application – missing were his date of birth and his full residential address in Libya – before finally rejecting his application in August of that year.
“In my opinion, you do not meet this definition of investor because you have not successfully operated, controlled or directed a business,” the embassy’s second secretary, P. Nectoux, wrote in a two-page letter. “ … I am not convinced that you ever had to take independent decisions with significant impact on the structure or major strategies of a business.”
The embassy official also questioned the source of Mr. Dabaiba’s wealth. “According to the documents we have and to your declarations at interview, your personal net worth has been accumulated through salary earnings and mostly commissions received when you approved contracts for O.D.A.C. (three millions of dollars over the last five years), and is not derived from an investor’s activity.”
He was also deemed inadmissible as an independent applicant and under humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
When Mr. Dabaiba’s Montreal immigration consultants failed to convince the embassy in Cairo to reconsider its decision, TIMC’s controller, Cindy Calvert, wrote to suggest the men submit a revised application to the Canadian High Commission in London. “It would also be good to have new employment letters, again highlighting managerial and administrative duties,” she wrote on Nov. 8, 1994, adding the high commission would be aware of his previous, rejected application.
Ms. Calvert oversaw the revision of his employment letters for ODAC, Nuvest and a third company called Fabulon Investments Ltd., based in Cyprus.
When reached by telephone, she said she has no recollection of Mr. Dabaiba. Ms. Calvert explained her job was to ensure that clients’ paperwork was in order. “Everybody had a criminal background check that was done by the Canadian government, so as far as myself, as a consultant was concerned, everbody was totally legitimate,” she said. “I had no idea of any customers having any type of association with Gadhafi.”
There were odd discrepancies in parts of Mr. Dabaiba’s file. For example, there were at least two different employment letters from Fabulon, both purportedly signed by a company official on Nov. 16, 1995. One referred to him as a “managing director,” involved “in the overall supervision of the day to day running of the company’s affairs,” while the other said he was a director who “is not actually involved in the day to day running of the office.”
Mr. Dabaiba made other changes on his second application – including the spelling of his name. While his first application had stated that his full name was Ali Ibrahim al-Dabeeba, he identified himself this time only as “Ali Ibrahim Dabaiba.” He provided an address in Cyprus, not Libya, as his permanent home, as well as a second address in London, the same one used by Mr. Lamlum.
The new documents had the desired effect. The high commission in London granted him an immigrant visa, according to his record of landing, dated Aug. 8, 1996. All his original dependants, minus a newlywed daughter, were listed as accompanying family members.
But even after receiving his entry visa and later his Canadian passport, Mr. Dabaiba continued to work for Col. Gadhafi at ODAC.
Col. Gadhafi, the self-styled revolutionary, was only 27 years old when he seized power in Libya, staging a bloodless military coup in 1969. He ruled the country with an iron fist for four decades, during which the dictator and his cronies are believed to have embezzled billions of dollars’ worth of the country’s oil wealth, hiding it around the world.
Rita Trichur – Senior business writer and columnist in toronto, Canada. Rita Trichur is an award-winning journalist. Her previous roles at The Globe and Mail include Senior Editor, Financial Services Editor, and Canadian business columnist for the Report on Business Magazine.
THE GLOBE AND MAIL