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RCMP uncovers alleged plot by 2 Montreal men to illegally sell drones, equipment to Libya

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The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) says it has uncovered a plot by two men in Montreal to sell Chinese drones and military equipment to Libya illegally.

The crimes were allegedly committed by the two people while working for the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a specialized United Nations agency with headquarters in Montreal.

"They essentially attempted to broker a deal between China and Libya when it comes to Chinese military equipment, specifically Chinese drones with large attack capabilities," said RCMP Sgt. Charles Poirier. "We're not talking small drones; we're talking small planes that have the capacity to carry missiles."

The RCMP noted Tuesday, "using foreign front companies, the individuals behind the conspiracy allegedly circumvented existing international sanctions to facilitate illegal activities."

Conspiracy charges have been filed against Fathi Ben Ahmed Mhaouek, 61, and Mahmud Mohamed Elsuwaye Sayeh, 37, in accordance with the United Nations Act and its Regulations Implementing the United Nations Resolutions and Imposing Special Economic Measures on Libya.

"They [also] attempted to export Libyan crude oil from Libya to China," said Poirier, adding this is also considered illegal in Canada under the UN Act.

He confirmed the two no longer work for ICAO, where they met.

"Part of the conspiracy took place while they were at ICAO," said Poirier. "At the time, because of their employment, they benefited from functional diplomatic immunity."

He explains that the RCMP had to ask the agency to lift its diplomatic immunity in order to lay criminal charges.

"ICAO is fully cooperating with the RCMP investigation of the individuals involved in the complaint, who left the organization a number of years ago," the agency said. "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."

After an investigation that started in 2022, Mhaouek was arrested at his home on Tuesday by police and faces charges of conspiring "to facilitate purchases of Libyan oil between prohibited entities and the People's Republic of China contrary to the United Nations Act."

He is expected to appear Tuesday afternoon at the Montreal courthouse.

Sayeh, on the other hand, is considered wanted by police authorities, and a Canada-wide warrant has been issued for his arrest. 

"According to the investigation, Mahmud Mohamed Elsuwaye Sayeh allegedly used a scheme that concealed military equipment sellers and buyers," the RCMP notes. "The equipment is subject to UN sanctions related to Libya."

A Red Notice has also been issued by INTERPOL.

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