Mexico has uncovered and stopped an international plot to smuggle late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's son Saadi into the country using fake names and false papers, authorities said.
A Canadian woman, a Danish man and two Mexicans were arrested on November 10 and 11 over an elaborate plan to bring Saadi Gaddafi, who is now in Niger, and his family to Mexico using forged documents, safe houses and private flights, they said on Wednesday.
Mexican officials acted on a tip in September about the network, which planned to settle the family near the popular
tourist spot of Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coast, Interior Minister Alejandro Poire said.
In preparation for the family's arrival, the alleged criminal ring bought properties around Mexico and opened bank accounts.
Al Jazeera's Franc Contreras, reporting from Mexico City, said Saadi Gaddafi had reportedly planned to travel to Mexico on a private airliner.
The alleged criminal ring had arranged for private flights to smuggle in the family and set up identities under assumed names, including Moah Bejar Sayed and Amira Sayed Nader, authorities said.
The suspected plotters themselves used a network of flights between Mexico, the United States, Canada, Kosovo and the Middle East to plan the route and organise the logistics for Saadi's arrival, Poire said.
"Mexican officials ... succeeded in avoiding this risk, they dismantled the international criminal network which was
attempting this and they arrested those presumed responsible," he told a news conference.
The plan was to bring Saadi, a businessman and former professional soccer player, and his family to a multi million-dollar estate in Punta Mita, the Canadian newspaper National Post reported.
Punta Mita is a swanky area with luxury hotels about 40 km from Puerto Vallarta.
Hide out in Mexico
Mexican authorities said the Canadian woman, Cynthia Ann Vanier, was the ringleader of the plot and directly in touch with the Gaddafi family,
They said the Danish man, Pierre Christian Flensborg, was in charge of logistics. The Mexican suspects were identified as Jose Luis Kennedy Prieto and Gabriela Davila Huerta, also known as de Cueto.
Mexico, fighting to contain raging drug-related violence, has broken some major cartels into smaller criminal gangs that
may be willing to help international criminals and militants, said one academic who specialises in regional security issues.
"Mexico ... has a reputation deservedly or not for lawlessness and so it was probably a calculation that if you go to Mexico ... you can get away and hide out," said David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego.
Saadi Gaddafi's lawyer Nick Kaufman said his client was still in Niger, where he fled as his father's 42-year rule crumbled in August.
"He is fully respecting the restraints placed on him presently by the international community," Kaufman told Reuters.
Like many senior members of the Gaddafi regime, Saadi was banned from travelling and had his assets frozen by a UN
Security Council resolution when violence erupted in Libya earlier this year.
In late August, Saadi Gaddafi was believed to have fled to the Libyan town of Bani Walid with his father and brother, Italian news agency ANSA reported at the time. When his father fled south, there were some indications that Saadi was willing to surrender.
In early September, while his brother Saif al-Islam vowed to continue fighting the NTC, Saadi urged negotiations to end the bloodshed.
Wednesday's news of an unrealised plan to hightail to Mexico involves a scheme dating from September.
Saadi soon sought shelter in Niger, however, as intense fighting continued. Interpol released a Red Notice for Saadi in late September, accusing him of corruption and armed intimidation.
Nigerien authorities have pledged that they will not extradite Saadi to Libya because of the risk he will not receive a fair trial and may face the death penalty. In mid-November, he was granted asylum in Niger.