World

WHO WAS BEHIND THE LUC ETHIER MURDER?

November 11 2002
World

WHO WAS BEHIND THE LUC ETHIER MURDER?

November 11 2002

WHO WAS BEHIND THE LUC ETHIER MURDER?

World

When Luc Ethier was gunned down on the streets of Kuwait City in October, 2001, his friends in the Gulf state and family back home in Canada were convinced he had fallen victim to terrorists. Few wanted to believe themleast of all local authorities who tried to deflect questions by pinning the blame on the Montrealer’s widow. But now, following a year of dogged legal efforts-and the recent murder of a U.S. marine by Kuwaiti al-Qaeda sympathizers-the real circumstances surrounding Ethier’s death may come to light.

Last week, a Kuwaiti appeals court overturned the conviction of Teddy Tornaro, a Filipino man found guilty of murdering Ethier last spring. The court also exonerated Ethier’s widow, Mary Jane Bitos, of charges that she lied when she identified a well-known religious

radical as the man who had pulled the trigger. The evidence against the pair-and the five other Filipinos originally charged with the crime-was never convincing. As detailed in a Maclean’s investigative report last March, Bitos, 26, was shot three times and left temporarily paralyzed in the attack that killed her 36-year-old husband. Eyewitnesses identified the gunman as an Arab who screamed “4/lahu Akbar (God is great) during the attack. The timing of the attack-three days after the beginning of the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Afghanistan and one day after Osama bin Laden’s Kuwaiti-born spokesman called for a holy war against Westerners-made terror-

ism seem a likely possibility.

But authorities in Kuwait, perhaps hoping to calm fears in the large expatriate community, fabricated evidence of an elaborate money-formurder plot. They alleged that Bitos and the others planned to divvy up her aircraft mechanic husband’s US$80,000 in death benefits-hiding the fact that the widow was not even the beneficiary of the insurance policies. They forced confessions from the suspects that were riddled with errors and contradictory details.

Benoît Rivard, Ethier’s best friend in Kuwait, says he is overjoyed that the case against Bitos and the others has finally been exposed as a sham. Working with Ethier’s family in Canada and Kuwaiti lawyers, Rivard obtained crucial documentation, coaxed exculpatory ballistics evidence out of the prosecution, and waged a campaign to keep the case before the media in a country that tolerates little questioning of government or police. Ultimately, the appeals court found there was no evidence to support the convictions. “We destroyed the prosecution’s case,” says Rivard, who believes the recent killing of the U.S. marine is forcing Kuwaitis to confront their own terrorist problem. “Because we knew we had to make it beyond obvious that they were innocent.”

In Montreal, Claude Ethier, Luc’s father, said he is pleased that his daughter-in-law and the others have been exonerated, but remains angry that his son’s killer is still free. He criticized Ottawa for its refusal to lobby for Bitos’s release over the past year or to press for a full investigation into the killing. “It’s a goddamn shame,” said Ethier. “This has never made any sense and all Foreign Affairs will say is that they can’t get involved because the accused were Filipinos. Well, my son was a Canadian citizen. Where’s the justice for him?” J.G.