Montreal UN aviation workers busted in China-Libya drone sale conspiracy

A Chinese national and senior diplomat employed by the ICAO Secretariat in Montreal was also identified in court documents as a member of the alleged conspiracy. He was not charged. The RCMP won't explain why.
Click to play video: '2 former Montreal UN workers accused of trying to sell Chinese drones to Libya'
2 former Montreal UN workers accused of trying to sell Chinese drones to Libya
WATCH: – Apr 23, 2024

Two former employees of the International Civil Aviation Organization, a Montreal-based United Nations agency, have been charged with conspiring to illegally sell Chinese drones and other military equipment to Libya in violation of international sanctions, the RCMP said Tuesday.

Conspiracy charges have been laid against Fathi Ben Ahmed Mhaouek, 61, of Sainte-Catherine, a Montreal suburb, and Mahmud Mohamed Elsuwaye Sayeh, 37, for whom no address was given. Nobody answered the door at the Mhaouek residence this afternoon.

A third alleged member of the conspiracy was named in court records, James Kuang Chi Wan. A police source confirmed Wan is a Chinese national and senior ICAO diplomat and that he was not charged.

The RCMP declined to explain why Wan wasn’t charged, would not discuss if it was because he enjoyed diplomatic immunity in Canada, and would not even say whether he was still in this country.

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Police allege the conspiracy between the three men took place in Brossard, Que., as well in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Libya and in the People’s Republic of China, according to court records.

The charges were laid under the United Nations Act and Regulations relating to the implementation of  United Nations resolutions and special economic measures on Libya, police said.

Fathi Ben Ahmed Mhaouek was arrested and is scheduled to appear in Quebec Court in Montreal later Tuesday, the RCMP’s Integrated National Security Enforcement Team said in a news release.

Sayeh is still wanted and a warrant has been issued for his arrest, the Mounties said.

ICAO headquarters in Old Montreal is a UN agency that promotes aviation safety.

INTERPOL also has issued a special “Red Notice” for Sayeh’s arrest, pursuant to the RCMP warrant.

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The RCMP alleges the two men, while employed by the ICAO, a UN agency in Montreal, were using foreign front companies to circumvent existing international sanctions to facilitate their illegal activities.

A spokesman for ICAO said the UN agency is fully cooperating with the RCMP investigation into Sayeh and Mhaouek, who it said “left the organization a number of years ago.”

“As the investigation and judicial proceedings are ongoing, ICAO is unable to provide further comments at this time,” the UN agency said in an emailed statement, without any further details.

“ICAO strongly condemns any actions of individuals that are inconsistent with the Organization’s values. ICAO is committed to upholding Canada’s laws and regulations, the UN Standards of Conduct, and its own stringent code of ethics,” the UN agency added, without answering any questions Global News sent about when the activities allegedly occurred.

RCMP Sgt. Charles Poirier said the two suspects allegedly planned the conspiracy between 2018 and 2021.

The police probe into the affair began in 2022 after officers received intelligence about it, Sgt. Poirier said.

The RCMP discovered that their conspiracy was never fully materialized, but that the plans involved shipments of millions of barrels of oil and millions of dollars in potential illicit gains for the suspects, Sgt. Poirier told Global News.

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It’s unclear how many drones were involved or if any were ultimately shipped.

The RCMP allege that Sayeh used a scheme that “concealed both military equipment sellers and buyers.”  No further details of the scheme were provided.

The equipment involved was allegedly subject to UN sanctions against Libya, the police said.

The RCMP allege that Mhaouek conspired to facilitate purchases of Libyan oil between prohibited entities and the People’s Republic of China, contrary to the United Nations Act.

The RCMP suggested that its investigation and the arrests were made under its foreign interference  prevention program, which aims to detect and disrupt foreign interference attempts or activities taking place in Canada by or on behalf of foreign actors.

ICAO’s headquarters in Montreal helps 193 nations around the world coordinate aviation policies, standards, regulations and safety measures. It was created in 1944.

With a file from Mike Armstrong at Global News Montreal.

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