||Last Updated: Oct 12, 2008 - 7:27:48 AM
Ari Ben-Menashe is a former spy and arms dealer who maintains what he
calls a "personal relationship" with Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe,
a man he much admires.
A resident of Montreal, Mr. Ben-Menashe has for years conducted
business on behalf of the brutal Mugabe regime, attempting to "improve"
its image, or so he claims.
There was a scheme in 2001, when he contrived to incriminate Mr.
Mugabe's chief political opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, in a presidential
assassination plot. It was a nasty, ugly affair, conducted primarily
from Mr. Ben-Menashe's Montreal office.
In Harare, Mr. Tsvangirai was accused of treason and jailed. He faced
execution. Mr. Ben-Menashe, 56, was the prosecution's star witness. The
trial judge saw right through him, calling him "rude, unreliable, and
Hard to say how that helped Zimbabwe. It did nothing to improve
Canada's reputation internationally.
Mr. Ben-Menashe returned to Montreal with a personal services contract
forged with the Zimbabwean government. Allegations of fraud soon
followed. Furious food buyers claimed to have been stiffed by Mr.
Ben-Menashe's food shipment companies. There were lawsuits. A divorce
from his wife.
Now this:Mr. Ben-Menashe's longtime business partner was deported last
week to the United States, where he faces myriad criminal charges,
including racketeering, conspiracy and fraud.
Until his capture, Alexander Legault worked from a number of downtown
Montreal offices that he shared with Mr. Ben-Menashe. A Montreal police
officer became aware of their activities. It was his dogged police work
that led to Mr. Legault's detention and deportation.
Mr. Legault is a 59-year-old American with a troubling past. He married
a Canadian named Frances Langleben; her mother, Florence Langleben, was
among those who sued the U. S. government and the Central Intelligence
Agency for involving them in secret brainwashing experiments.
He arrived in Canada in 1982 and was soon arrested following a U. S.
extradition request. The Superior Court of Quebec dismissed the request
on grounds that evidence of fraud tendered against him was
insufficient. In 1986, aU. S. federal grand jury indicted Mr. Legault
on new charges, including fraud and the use of fictitious names.
According to court documents, Mr. Legault is alleged to have helped
defraud the Egyptian government of US$7-million by participating in a
bogus export scheme that involved frozen chickens.
He then filed a refugee claim. Before that was dismissed, he moved to
Windsor and allegedly participated in a multi-million dollar
Ponzi-style scam that involved the brokering and financing of wholesale
food transportation. The fraud was directed at elderly Florida
residents and resulted in many more criminal charges laid against Mr.
Legault, and others. One of his alleged associates, an American named
Ray Reynolds, was arrested and plea-bargained with state prosecutors in
Florida. He agreed to a 22-year prison sentence.
Mr. Legault, meanwhile, remained safe in Canada, which frustrated
Florida officials to no end. "Legault claimed years ago that he had
some kind of in with the Canadian government, that it would always
protect him," says Jodie Breece, former chief assistant statewide
prosecutor. "Maybe that explains the inactivity of the Canadian
government in [going after] him."
His marriage ended; he then married a martial arts champion, and they
had four children together.
It was around this time, in the mid-1990s, that Mr. Legault's
immigration lawyer, Richard Kurland, introduced him to Ari Ben-Menashe.
"My thinking was, maybe they could work together," Mr. Kurland once
told me in an interview. "Here were two intelligent guys. They both had
Born in Iraq to Jewish parents, Mr. Ben-Menashe was fired from Israel's
intelligence service in 1987 and was arrested in New York two years
later, accused of trying to sell Israeli warplanes to Iran. A
sensational trial ensued and Mr. Ben-Menashe was acquitted.
He became a favourite -- if unreliable -- source for American
investigative journalists such as Seymour Hersch and Craig Unger, both
of whom were ultimately burned by faulty information Mr. Ben-Menashe
Unwelcome in the United States, Australia and Israel, Mr. Ben-Menashe
moved to Canada in 1993, married, and became a Canadian citizen.
He also attracted interest from Foreign Affairs officials who seemed to
think him a good source of information.
Mr. Legault was a wanted man when the pair set up shop together. In
1998, he filed an application for permanent residence in Canada, on
humanitarian and compassionate grounds, arguing that his children
needed him close by. The application was denied, but he kept working in
Montreal, alongside Mr. Ben-Menashe.
The pair was hired by the Mugabe regime, and from Montreal launched the
disgraceful attempt to incriminate Morgan Tsvangirai and send him to
In 2003,Mr. Legault was finally ordered from Canada. An airplane was
hired by the Canadian Border Services Agency; he was to fly from
Montreal to Chicago, where he was also wanted. He didn't show up for
the flight. Mr. Legault became a fugitive.
The National Post tracked him down in 2005. It wasn't difficult, even
though Mr. Legault had by then taken an alias. He was calling himself
Frank Lavigne, and was operating, with Mr. Ben-Menashe, a Montrealbased
company called Albury Grain Sales Inc.
Remarkably, Canadian authorities knew this. "We are aware that [Mr.
Legault] was operating under at least one other identity," CBSA
Robert Gervais told the National Post, in July, 2005. "We were aware of
the address of Albury Grain Sales, and it's an empty office. Obviously,
we're still looking for him, and we're active in our investigation, but
up to now, even with all this information, we haven't managed to arrest
They needed only to watch Mr. Ben-Menashe's movements. After closing
down Albury, he opened another office on the edge of Old Montreal. A
new grain shipping company was minted, called Traeger Resources and
Logistics Inc. The CEO? Frank Lavigne.
I called the Traeger office this week, asking for Mr. Ben-Menashe. We
spoke at length. He expressed no regret that his fugitive partner is
now sitting in a jail cell in Clinton County, N. Y., that he is
awaiting almost certain extradition to Florida, where authorities say
he will spend the rest of his life in prison, if convicted. On Monday,
Mr. Legault was denied bail. His next court appearance is Nov. 7.
"My personal feelings don't matter," Mr. Ben-Menashe told me. "I'm not
in any trouble. I haven't broken any laws."
It's true. Mr. Ben-Menashe has not been charged with any crime.
Authorities in the United States have expressed no interest in him, and
Canadian officials seem untroubled by his activities. He has not been
accused of harbouring a fugitive.
He has lost his partner of long-standing but he is not without friends.
Mr. Ben-Menashe still has his relationship with Robert Mugabe, which
dates back to 1985, he says. Among other things, he serves as political
and business fixer for the loathed Mugabe regime, helping arrange
transactions between the Zimbabwean government and private companies,
and attempting to rehabilitate the country's dreadful image.
Albert Weidemann, an anti-Mugabe activist in the United Kingdom, notes
that Mr. Ben-Menashe recently dangled a lucrative contract in front of
him, during a meeting inside London's Ritz Hotel.
According to terms of the contract, which the National Post has
obtained, the government of Zimbabwe promised to pay Mr. Weidemann
US$1.4-million a month, for two years. Mr. Weidemann says it was
intended as hush money. He refused to sign it. "I couldn't look at my
friends in Zimbabwe had I taken that money," he says. "I couldn't live
with myself had I done that deal with Ben-Menashe."
The Montrealer shrugs it off. It was a sweet contract, for everyone, he
says. He stood to gain 10% of the payments from Zimbabwe, according to
the terms. "We don't work for nothing," Mr. Ben-Menashe says.
Rumours have surfaced that he met with his African patron in late
August. In Montreal. "I'm not commenting on that," Mr. Ben-Menashe
says. "I won't discuss it." I asked him to deny it. He refused.
Other opportunities may develop, he allows. "I have a personal
relationship with Robert Mugabe. If you want to deal with him, then you
might want to deal with the guy who knows him pretty well. And I know
him very well," Ari Ben-Menashe says.
Given everything -- his past dealings, his political interferences, his
associations -- this should worry the Canadian government. It seems it
Top of Page