NATIONAL

THE FOUR-MILLION DOLLAR RAT

MICHAEL FRISCOLANTI February 12 2007
NATIONAL

THE FOUR-MILLION DOLLAR RAT

MICHAEL FRISCOLANTI February 12 2007

THE FOUR-MILLION DOLLAR RAT

A star Muslim informant who helped bring down the Toronto Eighteen

NATIONAL

MICHAEL FRISCOLANTI

The RCMP paid a civilian informant more than $4 million to help execute the sting operation that brought down a group of alleged terrorists in Toronto last summer, Maclean’s has learned. The undercover mole, a well-known member of the city’s Muslim community, was hired by the Mounties just weeks before the shocking arrests—and only after some shrewd negotiations over his compensation. In fact, the 28year-old businessman originally demanded more than $15 million for his covert services, arguing that he and his family deserved a “comfortable lifestyle” when the operation was over. The RCMP managed to talk him down, and both sides eventually settled on a deal worth at least $4.1 million—including $900,000 for a new house, $250,000 for his parents, and $40,000 to cover his wife’s dental bills.

It is no secret that police relied on two paid informants to bust the so-called “Toronto 18,” a group of young Islamic extremists accused of plotting attacks on Canadian soil. One of the agents, Mubin Shaikh, has already gone public with his story, admitting that he accepted at least $77,000 to work as an RCMP spy. Media reports have also confirmed the existence of a second agent, whose job was to help some of the suspects purchase fake explosive material from a team of undercover police officers. Until now, however, that person’s reward was a mystery. Only a select group of investigators knew their prized asset was being paid millions of dollars.

The revelation raises a number of pressing questions—questions that defence lawyers will no doubt be asking come trial. Why did he co-operate? Was it all about the money? And did he simply sit back and watch the plot unfold, or was he an instigator, urging the suspects to stop talking and start acting? There is, of course, another important question: what is the price of preventing a possi-

ble terrorist attack? The anonymous informant who helped police thwart what they considered a serious threat is now in the federal witness protection program. His family is also in hiding, fearful of retaliation. Put it that way, and a few million dollars might not seem like such a generous reward.

According to “secret” RCMP memos viewed by Maclean’s, investigators believed they had little choice but to pay top dollar for the man’s help. By mid-April 2006—six weeks before the bust—authorities had grown increasingly desperate, convinced that the group was on the brink of building a bomb. They had allegedly discussed targets (the Toronto Stock Exchange, the Toronto headquarters of the Canadian Security Intelli-

HE LOVED THE GOOD LIFE. HOTEL SUITES. FINE DINING. HE FLEW TO POLAND ONCE JUST TO EAT DUCK.

gence Service, and an unnamed military base), and Zakaria Amara, one of the suspects, had allegedly built and tested a remote-controlled detonator. “The plot consists of renting three 14-foot U-Haul vans packed with explosives, parking them at strategic locations, and remotely triggering the explosives,” according to one document prepared by investigators. A tentative date for the attack was even set: Nov. 14,2006. (None of the allegations against any of the accused has been proven in court; all the suspects are considered innocent until proven otherwise.)

On April 29, as investigators continued to monitor the group’s every move, two RCMP officers shook hands with a man who would soon become an invaluable source. CSIS arranged the meeting. Charming and chubby, the bearded man was already an informant for Canada’s spy agency. It is not clear how he first met some of the suspects, but whatever the link, the RCMP officers “were very interested” in securing his services. But there was one outstanding issue: money.

According to a briefing note written days after the sit-down, the RCMP’s new acquaintance outlined his plans for a “comfortable lifestyle” that would cost Canadian taxpayers at least $15 million. “[His] position was that the value of the investigation, i.e., stopping the terrorist act, would be worthy of that amount if there was no damage to life or property,” the memo reads. The Moun-

ties disagreed, saying his co-operation was worth “more in the line” of $2.5 million. “[He] was less than thrilled about our offer,” the officers recalled. Negotiations continued for more than six hours, stretching past 10 p.m. “[He] decreased the request from 15 million to 13.4 million,” the note continues. “We suggested 3.5 million. The talks ended that night with no final decision.”

The soon-to-be mole was no stranger to wheeling and dealing. He was already an ambitious businessman, a charismatic personality who can sweet-talk as easily as he can bark orders. “He was very, very friendly—a real

people person,” says one former business associate. “He taught me so much,” says another. “He would go ahead with an idea that wouldn’t work just to show you that it won’t work.” And he loved the good life. Hotel suites. Tennis games. Fine dining. He and his friend once flew to Poland—for the day—just to eat duck. “You don’t understand how much he loves food,” says the friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “If you tell him there is good food in Fiji, he’ll go.” (Maclean’s knows the informant’s identity but has decided not to publish it.)

Born in Canada to a prominent Egyptian family, the man spent the bulk of his high school and university years in Cairo, where he graduated from university with degrees in agriculture and business. He returned to Mississauga, Ont., in 2000, finding work as a flight attendant for Air Canada. Two years later he launched his first company, a catering firm. It flopped. But his determination did not. The doors to his kitchen were barely closed when he jumped into another enterprise, a travel agency that the RCMP later described as “expanding” and showing “signs of future success.” He also launched a separate business that helped new immigrants adjust to life in Canada, from obtaining a driver’s licence to finding a job.

He was busy, but not rich. By the time the RCMP came asking for help, the man was more than $188,000 in debt, including a whopping $20,000 worth of unpaid credit card bills. But money was not his biggest worry. If he was ever exposed as a fink, then he, his wife, his young daughter, his parents and his brothers would all have to disappear.

The day after his appointment with the Mounties, he visited them a second time, bringing along a lengthy list of his family’s “needs.”

$500,000 for his loss of business. $400,000 toward a new home for his parents. $40,000 to pay off various debts. $125,000 for each of his brothers. $1 million in unspecified needs. Again, the RCMP negotiators were hesitant. Instead of agreeing, they asked their source—repeatedly—to sign a temporary 30-day contract worth $20,000. “[He] declined to consider this option,” one memo reads.

Negotiations hit a brief standstill. The informant appeared unwilling to settle for anything less than $4-5 million. “We believe we are now at the point where we need to advise [him] that there is one final figure being offered,” the

THE DEAL INCLUDED $900 K FOR A NEW HOUSE, $250 K FOR HIS PARENTS, $40 K FOR DENTAL BILLS

note reads. “[He] should take the offer or there will be no agreement and no further assistance requested.” Portions of the document are censored, so the Mounties’ final offer is not revealed. However, Maclean’s has learned that senior officers approved a one-time “pure award” of up to $600,000, plus a maximum payment of $3.5 million once the family was safely transferred into witness protection. The cops seemed to have little choice but to cave. As the memo warned, if the RCMP does not reach a deal and the man is later exposed as a rat, “it will be very difficult” to ensure his safety. He may also “become hostile as a witness, difficult to control and seek other avenues to be compensated, i.e. civil action, which could prove very expensive in the future.”

By mid-May, the documents reveal, the Mounties granted their newly minted agent the legal authority to “knowingly facilitate a terrorist activity” in the name of cracking the case. His job was to provide suspects with credit cards and help them purchase large quantities of what they believed to be ammonium nitrate, the same chemical used in the

1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The sellers, of course, were plainclothes police officers. Maclean’s has also learned that the agent, at the behest of his handlers, urged the suspects to have the fertilizer delivered to a warehouse in Newmarket, Ont., and not to a house as originally planned. He told the others that the “fumes” might tip off neighbours.

On June 2, the ruse went ahead as planned, and within minutes, hundreds of heavily armed officers rounded up 17 suspects across greater Toronto (an 18th was arrested in August). All of them—13 adults and five youths—are now awaiting trial. In the meantime, the agent and his family have disappeared. Their phone numbers are disconnected. Their homes are empty.

Edward Sapiano, a lawyer who represents Yasim Abdi Mohamed, one of the accused, says the RCMP’s heavy reliance on paid informants could taint the entire case. “What we have here is not the discovery of criminality,” he says. “We have the creation of alleged criminality. [The police] were prepared to pay for terrorists with whatever amount of compensation.” Dennis Edney, an Edmonton lawyer who represents Fahim Ahmad—the group’s alleged ringleader—declined to discuss specific evidence. But he did say this: “The law is clear that where the activities of law enforcement agencies such as the RCMP and CSIS go beyond investigating a crime, to actively encouraging and inducing a criminal activity, a court may throw out the case as an abuse of process.” If the sensational case does reach trial, Edney will be among those asking the tough questions. “There are serious concerns in relying upon the testimony of police agents who are simply motivated by money,” he says.

The Mounties’ star agent could not be reached for comment. However, one of his former associates is quick to defend his friend’s actions, saying his decision had nothing to do with settling a few overdue bills. “He didn’t worry about debt,” he says. “He always had a feeling that he would wake up tomorrow and make $10,000.” He helped police because it was the right thing to do, his friend says— not only to save the lives of innocent people, but to maintain Islam’s good name in Canada. “He said: ‘An attack would have broken the backs of Muslims in Canada.’ I really commended him for that. He would rather not have had this whole headache. But when he was put in that position, he thought about it a few times and thought: T have to do it.’ And like any good businessman, he made sure his bets were covered. “He said: ‘You know what? I better be compensated because I am leaving a lot behind.’ ” M