The federal judge based in Mexico City barred journalists with CBC News from Vanier's court appearance in Chetumal, a city of 150,000 near Mexico’s southern border with Belize, where she's been imprisoned for more than a year.
Vanier was to read from a 22-page prepared statement in which she planned to attack the state’s case, accusing prosecutors of relying on shoddy evidence and disreputable witnesses, such as convicted drug trafficker Ed Nunez and her former bodyguard Gary Peters, who on Tuesday was ordered deported from Canada for his role in helping Saadi Gadhafi escape from Libya to Niger.
Manuel Moreno, a spokesman for the federal court system, said the ban on media was in part to protect identities of witnesses and some of the evidence in the highly sensitive case. The affair has garnered international attention and was mentioned in a speech last winter by Mexican President Filipe Calderon at a summit of North American leaders on the White House lawn.
Numerous delays in case
Vanier was arrested on Nov. 10, 2011, and her case has been delayed because of hurricanes, power outages, a national information technology reboot, a lack of translators and teleconferencing problems — two of the four accused are in Vera Cruz, and the judge hearing the case is in Mexico City.
Thursday’s hearing was almost postponed because someone forgot to do the paperwork to get her from prison to court.
Vanier is accused of scheming with Danish consultant Pierre Christian Flensborg and two Mexicans — former dancer and public relations specialist Gabriela Davila Huerta and former police officer Jose Luis Kennedy Prieto — to smuggle into Mexico the family of Saadi Gadhafi, one of the sons of the former Libyan dictator.
Vanier has been charged with attempted human trafficking, involvement in organized crime and falsification of documents. She has pleaded not guilty to all charges while awaiting justice at the Centro de Readaptacion Social, a roadside prison for men and women less than 400 kilometres south of the tourist area of Cancun.
Vanier has maintained her only involvement with Libya occurred when Canadian engineering giant SNC-Lavalin hired her to conduct a fact-finding mission on the conditions in Libya in the summer of 2011.
However, in an affidavit for a search warrant of SNC headquarters that was unsealed last week, RCMP investigators state they’ve obtained emails and other evidence leading them to believe the fact-finding mission — and a subsequent plan to hire aircraft for retrieving employees — was a cover for an attempted removal of Gadhafi.
Vanier refused to talk publicly about the allegations pending the outcome of Thursday’s appearance. However, during a brief visit with CBC News in her prison earlier this week, she vehemently denied RCMP claims that SNC controller Stéphane Roy sent her a scanned image of Saadi Gadhafi's diplomatic passport, and RCMP accusations that she sent Roy bogus Mexican birth certificates intended for use by Gadhafi family members.
"I didn't send them," Vanier told CBC News on Tuesday. "I didn't receive anything that they are describing." She promised to say more after her Thursday court hearing about recent developments, including Canada's deportation order issued Tuesday for her former bodyguard.
Vanier showed up in handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit at the Federal Court where she was to sit behind bars facing a video screen to give her statement. She had the help of a translator and the support of her husband Pierre, who has spent almost 15 months with her, visiting almost daily to bring her food in jail.
Pierre Vanier did not want to be quoted in the media, but expressed concern for his wife’s health. She has been hospitalized twice — once for the removal of an ovary and an operation on her intestines — and another time after contracting dengue fever.
The Chetumal prison was constructed in a former jungle, but the insect population remains. Inmates at the open-air facility have been sent to hospital with bites from cockroaches, spiders and mosquitoes that pass on dengue fever and other maladies.
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