The alleged international smuggling plot involving Libyan dictator Muammar Gadaffi’s son and Canadian consultant Cynthia Vanier continues to coil around itself like a snake. In pursuit of the story, Canada National Post writer Stewart Bell recently gained access to court records in Mexico City. Testimony obtained from the documents introduces yet another player, Christian Esquino, who has surfaced in connection to the plot.
Mexico’s case, which appears to be partially constructed on Esquino’s testimony, has resulted in the incarceration of Cynthia Vanier and Gabriel de Cueto, among others. Esquino, who has a checkered past, was also taken into custody two weeks ago.
Esquino is central to the scheme not simply because he gave testimony but because he owns a jet charter service that flies out of a town west of Mexico City. Planes used by Cynthia Vanier for international travel, including a Libyan fact-finding mission, are owned by Esquino.
According to the National Post, Esquino, a former San Diego resident, was “hounded” in the 1990s “by U.S. drug enforcement agents who suspected he was tied to the Tijuana cartel.” In 2004, he “pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit fraud involving aircraft.” After Esquino spent time in a United States prison, he was deported to Mexico.
Esquino told a federal agent that last August his wife received an email from Gabriela de Cueto, the National Post reported on March 20. The email, which was acquired by the Mexican government, appears to be laying the groundwork for the smuggling operation. The email contains the names of a family Vanier might be flying out of Libya on a future trip, as well as a scanned passport. The passport photo is of Gaddafi’s son.
What follows is a March 22 free-ranging interview with Gregory Gillispie in which he discusses what he knew about the circumstances leading up to the arrests. Gillispie owns a San Diego–based company called Veritas Worldwide Security, which the media has linked from the beginning to this increasingly contorted smuggling plot. Gillespie, who is named as a suspect, has stated that he only brokered the plane contracts.
Gillispie said that he owns several companies, one the security company called Veritas Worldwide Security and another a brokering service called GG Global Air, which was the company that brokered the plane lease with Cynthia Vanier. He said that Vanier contacted one of his business partners through an agent last year around July 7. Vanier was going on a fact-finding mission to Libya and wanted to rent a plane that was not registered in the United States.
“I know multiple aircraft charter services,” Gillispie said, “and the cheapest by far was from Mexico.”
Gillispie and his partner Gabriela de Cueto, a Coronado resident whose nickname is Gabby, contacted Christian Esquino to negotiate the rental of one of his jets.
“I did not know Christian Esquino,” Gillispie said. “The first time I ever contacted or spoke to Christian Esquino was about a week to ten days prior to when Cindy [Vanier] and the crew made the trip. Gabby had known Mr. Esquino for about ten years. She was best friends with his wife, Bertha. Christian, Bertha, Gabby lived in Coronado.
“Christian had been investigated in the United States for being associated with the Félix Arellano cartel and for buying old airplanes from the Mexican Department of Agriculture, repainting them, creating bogus logs, and reselling the planes to people in the United States. One plane crashed. Seized up. So they arrested Christian, and he ended up spending two years in Lompoc.
“When Christian got out, he was deported, in 2007. Then the Mexicans arrested him. He spent one day in jail, and he escaped, he’s on the lam. In Mexico he operates under the name of Eduardo Nuñez. His full name is Christian Eduardo Esquino Nuñez.
“He now operates a jet-service business out of Toluca, where the executive jets land for Mexico City.”
Gillispie said he initially thought that Cynthia Vanier was a representative of the Canadian government.
“She wanted an airplane on very short notice. She made the initial payment of $145,000, owed me $81,000. She refused to pay that money. The money she paid was the money I owed Christian. The $81,000 was for brokering.” Gillispie talked to his partners, who “were willing to go down to $51,000 — for making a couple of phone calls.”
Cynthia Vanier left on July 17 for the ten-day fact-finding trip to Libya, flying in a Hawker 800 jet owned by Christian Esquino. After she returned, Gillispie said, “Cindy wanted to meet us. Wanted to meet us for a long-term contract.”
On August 10, Gillispie and his partners met Cynthia Vanier at the Region of Waterloo International Airport, known as the Kitchener airport.
“Cindy complained that the first flight was horrible — airplane too small. If we could forgive $50,000, she would offer us a 12-month contract. I thought I would roll the $81,000 back into the yearlong contract.
“We left Canada, and we talked to Christian about a full-year Gulfstream and a smaller airplane on-call in Kosovo. We negotiated a deal for $9 million, with $3 million profit [for Gillispie and partners]. It took us a couple of days to agree to all the variations that were possible for a contract lasting up to 12 months long.
“The contract was presented to Cindy in mid-August. Gabby and I returned to Kitchener on the 24th of August to deliver a Gulfstream III aircraft and the completed contract. Cindy opted to take the 9-month option and signed the contract for a Gulfstream and a Citation. Gas was on top of the contract price.
“The aircraft and pilots were left with her. The pilots were directed not to fly her or any of her people until we received the first payment. It was on approximately the 28th that we received the wire transfer.
“During the next month, Cindy flew three times to Mexico, where she owned property. This worked well, as the plane was registered in Mexico, so Christian could do maintenance in Mexico per law.