The Gaddafi condo: Redecorated at SNC-Lavalin’s expense, luxury Toronto suite sits unused amid UN inaction
The Gaddafis lost Libya in 2011, when rebel fighters captured and killed longtime dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. But the family still holds a small patch of territory in Canada’s largest city.
“Nobody comes, nobody goes,” the property manager at 10 Navy Wharf Ct., who asked not to be identified by name, said of the 40th-floor condo in Toronto’s Entertainment District.
“It just sits there.”
The luxury unit is a remnant of Gaddafi excess. Saadi Gaddafi bought it during a three-month visit to Canada in 2008.
A general in the Libyan special forces and briefly a professional soccer player, but best known as Col. Gaddafi’s playboy son, he paid $1.55 million.
The hosts of his Canadian junket, executives at SNC-Lavalin, spent another $200,000 redecorating it for their guest, the RCMP alleged in an application for a warrant to search the company’s Montreal office.
But while the dictator’s son is now imprisoned in Libya, property records indicate he still owns the unit, which has become the subject of an international stalemate involving the United Nations Security Council, Libya, Canada and the Ontario courts.
Since the Gaddafi regime was overthrown in a revolution backed by NATO air power, the Libyan government has been trying to identify and recover the assets the family stashed around the world over four decades.
The condo on Lake Ontario, in a tower next to the home field of the Toronto Blue Jays, is among those assets.
Documents obtained by Global News show the Libyan government went before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to argue the condo was rightfully the property of the Libyan state.
The court agreed and ordered the ownership transferred to Libya.
There was, however, a complication: the Gaddafi family’s assets were frozen by the United Nations Security Council during the 2011 armed conflict.
Saadi Gaddafi was included on the asset-freezing list due to his close association with the regime and “command of military units involved in repression of demonstrations.”
As a result, Libya can’t take ownership of the condo until the 15-member Security Council‘s Libya sanctions committee unanimously agrees to unfreeze it.
“There is a court order in place to have the property transferred, subject to approval by the UN, and we’re waiting for that to occur,” said Gar Knutson, the Ottawa lawyer and former federal cabinet minister representing Libya.
“The order takes effect once the committee at the UN gives its approval. And that process is very slow.”
UN records show the committee has discussed a request by Canada for an exemption to the Libya assets freeze, most recently in November 2017. But it has still not given its okay.
“Canada regularly discusses its priority issues with members of the UNSC but does not currently hold a seat on it,” said Stefano Maron, a Global Affairs Canada spokesperson.
“We look forward to the approval of the UNSC committee so that we can return the condominium unit to the people of Libya as soon as possible.”
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Now 45, the dictator’s son has not set foot in his Canadian condo since 2009, when he was in town for the Toronto International Film Festival and hosted a party attended by the American rapper 50 Cent.
He fled Tripoli as his father’s regime fell and ended up in Niger. He tried to find a country in which to live in exile. The RCMP alleged in its search warrant application that SNC-Lavalin executives had financed a failed plot to smuggle him to Mexico.
He eventually returned to Libya, where he remains behind bars.
But his relationship with SNC-Lavalin has suddenly resurfaced as the backdrop to the political troubles that have shaken the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau following the resignations of two senior cabinet ministers, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott.
The scandal concerns whether Trudeau’s office improperly pressured Wilson-Raybould, when she was the attorney general, to defer prosecution of SNC-Lavalin for bribery and corruption in Libya.
Looming in the background, however, is Saadi Gaddafi, who “acted in the role of leader of Libya,” according to an RCMP document summarizing a 2012 statement by the top Libyan diplomat in Canada at the time, Sulaiman Mohamed.
“There were no limits to his power,” said the summary, which was filed in court when the RCMP sought to seize the bank accounts of several former SNC-Lavalin executives.
He also paid for nothing.
“When Saadi Gaddafi was in Canada, either SNC-Lavalin or the Libyan Embassy would cover his expenses,” the summary said.
After he bought his Toronto condo, SNC-Lavalin executives paid $202,333 to a local design firm, the RCMP alleged in its search warrant application. The money was for redecoration costs for the condo, the RCMP alleged, adding the executives paid his condo fees as well.
Company executives also financed luxury yachts for Saadi Gaddafi and transferred tens of millions of dollars to companies he controlled as a reward for “having influenced the awarding of major contracts” to SNC-Lavalin, RCMP investigators alleged in their warrant application.
The executives the RCMP alleged were involved with the condo, Riadh Ben Aissa and Stéphane Roy, were removed from the company in 2012. Ben Aissa pleaded guilty in 2014, and charges against Roy were recently stayed due to delays in his prosecution.
Following an investigation called Project Assistance, SNC-Lavalin itself was charged in 2015, but the case has not gone to trial and the company says the individuals responsible should be prosecuted rather than the company.
Companies weren’t the only ones accommodating the Gaddafis at that time. The Canadian government not only allowed members of the family to enter the country but said it was “pleased to welcome” Col. Gaddafi when he planned a stopover in Newfoundland in 2009.
“Our political dialogue with Libya is expanding, and we are looking to develop new economic initiatives,” the government said in a document released under the Access to Information Act, which referred to Libya as a “partner for Canadian efforts in Africa.”
The Canadian document was drafted shortly after the Libyan agent responsible for bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270, returned to Tripoli to a hero’s welcome by Gaddafi’s government.
Meanwhile, according to the Toronto property manager, realtors and potential buyers occasionally ask about Gaddafi’s condo, but he turns them away because of its unresolved status, so it sits unused.
“It’s like a museum, I guess.”
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