Dark Side
Fugitive Nabbed
By Brian Hutchinson, National Post1/10/08
Oct 12, 2008 - 7:26:44 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 contemptuous."

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 interesting histories."

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 provided.

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 the gallows.

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 spokesman

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 him."

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 does not.

Source: Ocnus.net 2008