Leaked info about RCMP operation could have damaged allies’ investigations, Ortis trial hears | CBC News

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A former RCMP officer who was leading an investigation into the alleged Canadian associates of an international money-laundering syndicate says tipping off the targets could have jeopardized an international probe. 

Retired staff sergeant Patrick Martin testified Thursday at the trial of Cameron Ortis, the former senior RCMP intelligence official who now faces six charges, including four counts of violating the Security of Information Act. 

Ortis, 51, is  accused of sharing special operational information “intentionally and without authority” with Salim Henareh and Muhammad Ashraf. He also faces one count of attempting to share special operational information with Farzam Mehdizadeh.

RCMP intelligence reports entered into evidence during the trial show the RCMP was investigating those three men and their money services businesses for potential links to Altaf Khanani, who was suspected of laundering money for terrorists. 

Martin told the jury the U.S. and the Australian Federal Police were keen on investigating Khanani. He said the RCMP was leading a probe into Khanani’s alleged Toronto connections, an investigation dubbed Project Oryx.  

A Project Oryx investigation report Martin wrote has become a key piece of evidence in the Crown’s case against Ortis.

According to an agreed statement of facts, a copy of the report was recovered from a USB key at Ortis’s apartment.

In the report, Martin wrote that “Khanani uses the services of persons/businesses in Canada who coordinate and reconcile transactions with him.”

The Crown alleges snippets of that report and another from the Criminal Intelligence Advisory Group, an offshoot of the Five Eyes alliance, were emailed to Ashraf in 2015. The Five Eyes is an intelligence sharing network made up of the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. 

“This is not a trick,” says the package’s cover letter.

“I do not work for a law enforcement or intelligence agency, demonstrated, I think, by the attached documents. I do, however, have the ability to access a wide variety of information.”

A package of classified material was mailed to Henareh in 2015, the jury heard. The Crown alleges Ortis was the sender.

Under questioning by Crown lawyer John MacFarlane, Martin told the jury he had no idea at the time that someone had sent his secret report.

“If subjects know that they’re being watched by the RCMP or investigated by the armed security police force, they may change their tactics, they may stop what they’re doing altogether. And it would certainly affect our investigation,” he said.

“It could totally shut it down.”

And not just in Canada, he said.

A ‘ripple effect’

“It could jeopardize an ongoing investigation, in this case with the Australian Federal Police, with the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] in the United States,” he said.

“It can have a ripple effect on other ongoing investigations globally.”

Photo of Salim Henareh in an office
The RCMP started investigating Toronto businessman Salim Henareh as early as 2007, according to court documents. (Facebook)

Ortis has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. His defence argues he had the authority to do everything he did.

Martin said there are strict rules for RCMP undercover operations. There has to be an approved operational plan, the undercover officer has to have specific training and a “cover” person has to be assigned to keep tabs on the undercover officer for safety, he said.

Under cross-examination, Ortis’s lawyer Jon Doody asked the former Mountie if he’d ever heard of an online undercover operation.

Martin said he had not.

Former Mountie says he never discussed disclosing secrets

Ortis is also accused of leaking special operational information to Vincent Ramos, the head of a company that was accused of selling encrypted phones to criminals, including the Khanani network and drug cartels. He also faces two Criminal Code charges: breach of trust and unauthorized use of a computer.

On Thursday afternoon, the jury heard from retired RCMP chief superintendent Warren Coons, who sometimes chaired meetings with the RCMP’s Five Eyes partners.

He said he never discussed disclosing RCMP or allied intelligence with Ortis. 

Coons will be cross-examined when the trial resumes Friday. 

Ramos is serving a nine-year prison sentence in the U.S.

Henareh’s lawyer said he has “been fully investigated by the RCMP and he has been completely exonerated.” CBC has attempted to contact Ashraf through his company but hasn’t received a response yet.

Khanani was arrested in Florida in the fall of 2015. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering.

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