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Operation Cancun fugitive lands in Mexico to buy airline



Operation Cancun fugitive lands in Mexico to buy airline

(Photo: Michael Chamas once promised jobs at a Conservative fundraiser)

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By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
Michael Chamas, the alleged “banker” for a Mohawk-based marijuana smuggling ring, is a wanted man in Canada, but recent RCMP efforts to nab him internationally haven’t slowed his globe-trotting ways.

Chamas said in a recent interview with APTN National News that RCMP investigators contacted Lebanese authorities through Interpol as part of their efforts to track him down.

He said Lebanese authorities contacted his family trying to glean information about his movements.

“They contacted uncles, they contacted family members, they contacted (my) father and mother,” said Chamas. “They went to the most sacred, my family, and now they are going to have to answer to that.”

Chamas, however, said he’s unfazed by the RCMP’s efforts to catch him and told APTN National News he travelled from Dubai to Mexico City this week to shore up his bid to buy Mexicana, Mexico’s oldest airline which is currently in bankruptcy protection.

According to Mexican media reports, Chamas is now in the middle of a national spectacle around the future of Mexicana which was punctured this week with protests by pilots and airline employees followed by arrests. There were also reports of threats aimed at pushing investors out of the running for the airline’s restructuring.

Chamas said he is using a “diplomatic passport” from a country he wouldn’t name to travel between Dubai, Mexico and Switzerland.

“I never committed any crime, I never committed any fraud,” said Chamas in a phone interview he said was from Amsterdam where he had recently landed on a flight from Mexico. “I did not touch drugs, I did not touch arms.”

A Quebec judge issued a warrant for Chamas’ arrest in October after he failed to show up for a trial date.

He’s facing nine weapons charges stemming from a March 26, 2008, search of his house where police found two Arizona-bought handguns and ammunition.

The raid was part of Operation Cancun, a two year-long police investigation into a drug smuggling organization that moved Quebec-grown marijuana across the Canada-U.S. border through Akwesasne and onto New York City.

Akwesasne, a Mohawk community about 120 kilometres west of Montreal, straddles both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

RCMP investigators believe that individuals linked to the drug-smuggling network transferred money to some of Chamas’ companies. Police documents referred to him as the “banker” for the smuggling organization.

Chamas denies he has anything to do with laundering drug money.

Chamas’ former assistant, a Mohawk woman named Juanita Cree, says the police found the guns in his home because she planted them there at the suggestion of a Surete du Quebec officer.

She claims the officer said planting evidence was the only way to nail guys like Chamas who are usually too slick to get caught.

Cree says she was also an informer for the SQ in Kanesatake, the Mohawk community at the centre of the Oka crisis, and did consulting work on Aboriginal community policing for the RCMP from 1994 to 2000.

Cree says she came forward with her story because she wanted to come clean on her actions.

The RCMP and the SQ said they would not comment on Cree’s allegations.

Chamas claims he is being hounded by the RCMP because they believe he is an international money launderer with links to a foreign entity trying to infiltrate Canada.

He says that if detained abroad at the request of Canadian authorities, he will claim political asylum.

Reports from Mexico indicated Chamas was in the country this week but his bid to refinance Mexicana airline hit a major roadblock Wednesday.

Federal authorities overseeing the company’s restructuring said he didn’t do enough to prove he had the capital for the deal, the El Economista reported.

Chamas was required to prove he had $400 million US on hand to inject into Mexicana.

According to a report in the daily newspaper Reforma, Chamas presented a document notarized in Canada proving the $400 million existed.

Chamas said he was representing Middle Eastern financiers who want to invest in Mexicana and had partnered with Mexican businessman Ivan Barona on the proposed deal.

Chamas said the money would soon be transferred to a Mexican bank and the airline “is mine.”

A report in Milenio indicated that Barona would be meeting Thursday with Dionisio Perez-Jacome, the secretary for transportation and communication, on the bid. The unions appear to be backing Chamas and Barona’s bid.

Before becoming a wanted man in Canada, Chamas’ projected persona as an international financier who could swing big deals attracted some well-connected Conservatives who were interested in preparing a bid to purchase the Quebec-based Laurentian Bank which was rumoured to be up for sale.

When the RCMP raided Chamas’ house, they seized hundreds of documents, including some containing the names of John Crosbie, who is now lieutenant-governor of Newfoundland and Labrador, and John Reynolds, who was a former Conservative federal election campaign co-chair in 2006 and co-chair of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s leadership bid in 2004.

The police seized two folders that were marked with Reynolds’ name and “Laurentian Bank.”

Reynolds wrote one letter to Chamas concerning the bank.

Reynolds, however, said he was never directly involved in any plans to buy the bank.

Crosbie also wrote a letter to former immigration minister Monte Solberg in 2006 asking the minister to overturn a decision ordering Chamas’ wife Brigitte Garas, a French citizen, from the country.

Crosbie said he wrote the letter as a favour for Conservative fundraiser and Montreal bankruptcy lawyer David Bernstein, who wanted Chamas to help buy the bank.

Bernstein died this past April.

The deal never materialized. Chamas says he didn’t want to come through with the expected $1.5 billion until his outstanding tax problems were settled. Revenue Canada said Chamas owed millions of dollars in back taxes.

Crosbie took on Chamas’ tax problems at the request of Bernstein. Crosbie said met with Revenue Canada once to discuss the matter.

Crosbie has described his dealings with Chamas as “peripheral.”

jbarrera@aptn.ca

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