Dr. Arthur Porter and his wife, Pamela, sat behind bars Thursday in a Panamanian detention centre, a few days after local authorities took them into custody on an Interpol warrant.
Porter, who lives in the Bahamas, has been wanted for months in connection with Quebec's ongoing corruption scandals and the construction of a $1.3-billion hospital complex. His wife faces a related charge.
Developments in the case reveal an improbable web of interpersonal connections. They place Porter one degree of separation from a pair of notorious 1980s figures: the Lockerbie bomber and former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega.
He is slated to be treated by an oncologist who once examined the Libyan terrorist's cancer. Those medical plans were revealed Thursday by the Porters' Panamanian lawyer, who once helped smuggle cocaine with Noriega.
Porter was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to head the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which monitors the work of CSIS. He says he's done nothing wrong.
His lawyer told The Canadian Press that the couple will not only contest their extradition, but will also seek bail in the coming days.
"He has the right to fight and he has decided to fight," Ricardo Bilonick said in a phone interview from Panama City.
Media outlets had reported that Porter would not fight his extradition to Canada, but Bilonick said things have changed.
"The first day I saw him, which was the day after his arrest, he was very down, obviously," said Bilonick, a former diplomat who testified at Noriega's 1991 trial about their past illegal ties.
"But today I found him very peppy and willing to fight."
Bilonick described the Canadian extradition request as poorly formulated. He planned to ask a judge for bail next week, a process that could take a few days or even a couple of weeks.
If the Porters are released on bail, he said they would have to stay in Panama until their extradition proceedings have been completed. Bilonick expects that step to take a couple of months.
Police in Panama say they detained the Porters after learning that Canadian authorities had issued an arrest warrant for them on fraud-related allegations.
The Porters arrived in the country on a flight from the Bahamas.
Panamanian police have said Porter stopped in the country en route to Trinidad and Tobago. But Bilonick says Porter indicated to him that the pair was actually headed to Antigua.
Porter, he added, told him he was scheduled to meet with the prime minister as part of a diplomatic mission for his native Sierra Leone.
Bilonick said he believed Porter had used his Sierra Leonean diplomatic passport to enter Panama, before being arrested hours later at a hotel near the airport.
The lawyer maintains that Porter should not have been arrested because of diplomatic immunity.
He also listed Porter's poor health as among a number of additional reasons why he believed the physician should not be extradited to Canada.
"I have several options that I haven't given you... because those are the aces in my hand," Bilonick said.
Porter has said he was suffering from stage-four cancer and was too ill to travel.
Asked why Porter had been travelling despite his poor health, his lawyer replied: "I don't know, I never knew him before... It could have been an important mission (to Antigua)."
Bilonick said an oncologist and business partner of Porter's requested — and was granted — permission to travel to Panama to treat him.
Dr. Karol Sikora is expected to arrive in Panama in the next couple of days, he added.
Sikora, who runs a medical clinic with Porter in the Bahamas, was one of the cancer experts who examined Lockerbie airplane bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi.
He and other physicians said the Libyan terrorist — the only person convicted in the 1988 bombing — had just three months to live while he was jailed in Scotland.
Their report led to al-Megrahi's 2009 release from prison on compassionate grounds, to live out his remaining days in Libya. He lived another three years.
When asked about the state of Porter's health, Bilonick said he read a medical report from a doctor who had examined Porter.
"He's not doing very well," said Bilonick, adding that Porter is undergoing oral chemotherapy.
"I'm not a (medical) doctor, I'm a doctor of law. From what I see, he's ill. I mean, he carries an oxygen thing in his hand."
Bilonick said in the coming days the Porters will be transferred from the Panama City detention centre to separate jails for men and women, about 60 kilometres from the capital.
"The first time I met him I told him you don't want to be in jail because it's not a nice place here," Bilonick said, adding that Pamela Porter seemed to be OK under the circumstances.
Porter, 57, faces charges of fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, fraud against the government, breach of trust, money-laundering, and accepting bribes. His wife, whose arrest warrant had not been public, faces charges of money-laundering and conspiracy.
The physician is one of several people facing charges stemming from the construction of the $1.3-billion McGill University Health Centre in Montreal — one of Canada's biggest infrastructure projects.
He received prestigious appointments from different levels of government in Canada.
Porter abruptly resigned from his federal post in November 2011. He also quit his job as director of the McGill hospital network and left the country.
He has been working as the managing director of a private cancer treatment centre in the Bahamas. Porter told media a few months ago that he had late, stage-four cancer and was too ill to travel to Canada.
Porter looked frail in images that appeared with news reports in recent months.
Bilonick said he did not know Porter before he was contacted by several people and was asked to represent him, including through a call from the couple's daughter.
"He seems to be a very nice person," he said of Porter.
"I understand he has occupied very sensitive positions in Canada."
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