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Swiss hold Canadian linked to 'Qaddhafi plot'

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13:28 CEST+02:00

A former executive at a Canadian engineering firm who has been linked to a plot to smuggle Muammar Qaddhafi's son into Mexico has been arrested in Switzerland, officials said.

Riadh Ben Aissa, a past executive vice president of engineering giant SNC-Lavalin's construction arm, has been in custody in Switzerland since mid-April, the Swiss federal prosecutor's office said late on Sunday.

"The state prosecutor's office confirms the arrest of a Tunisian/Canadian national, former vice president of SNC-Lavalin Group," prosecution spokeswoman Jacqueline Buhlmann told AFP in an email.

"At this stage, he is accused of corruption, fraud and money laundering tied to business deals in North Africa."

Buhlmann said the arrest followed a criminal investigation launched in May 2011, but would not give further details on the case.

Canadian police raided the firm's Montreal headquarters on April 13th.

A spokeswoman for SNC-Lavalin told AFP the group had been informed of Ben Aissa's arrest but had no details on the investigation.

SNC-Lavalin fired Ben Aissa in February for his role in paying $56 million to foreign agents for undocumented work.

A review traced two payments in December 2009 and July 2011 to Ben Aissa, who was fired along with vice president in charge of finances, Stephane Roy.

The review found Aissa had sought approval to hire the agents to "secure work" for two unspecified projects, and amounts of $33.5 million and $22.5 million were "charged to contracts that didn't exist."

SNC-Lavalin fired chief executive Pierre Duhaime in the wake of the scandal and said it would ask police to investigate.

SNC-Lavalin said in a statement it is cooperating with police, and said the warrant "relates to an investigation of certain individuals who are not or are no longer employed by the company."

Media reports have linked Aissa and Roy to the arrest in Mexico of a Canadian woman accused in an elaborate plot to bring 38-year-old Saadi Qaddhafi, the ex-dictator's son, into Mexico with false documents at the height of pro-democracy protests in Libya last year.

SNC-Lavalin, which oversaw billions of dollars' worth of projects in Libya, including construction of a prison, had hired the alleged conspirator, Cynthia Vanier, to work in Libya in early summer 2011.

Mexican authorities charged Vanier, a Dane, and two Mexicans on January 28th with attempted trafficking of undocumented people, organized crime and falsifying official documents.

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