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"This must have caused irreparable harm to the RCMP and betrayed every intelligence partner": Crown closes on Ortis
Cameron Ortis lawyer tells jury he acted creatively in efforts to lure criminals onto email platform controlled by foreign intelligence
A Canadian prosecutor cited the former boss of alleged RCMP mole Cameron Ortis — who testified that Ortis’ crimes have harmed Canada beyond repair and could have led to deaths — to close the Crown’s case in one of the most sensitive trials in Canadian history.
Thursday morning a jury of 12 in Ontario Superior Court heard from his lawyer that Ortis — facing six charges for sharing or attempting to share RCMP plans with four transnational crime suspects — acted creatively to protect Canada, in a one-man operation purportedly motivated by gathering intelligence for an unidentified Five Eyes agency.
The jury heard that in September 2014, a foreign intelligence officer had informed Ortis of a serious and imminent threat to the Five Eyes, and asked Ortis to lure criminals linked to money laundering and terrorist groups, onto Tutanota, a secure email service that Ortis claims was controlled by a foreign agency.
“Cam’s goal was simple,” his lawyer Jon Doody said. “Try to get the target, to use this new service. It would permit the possibility that this foreign agency, at some point in the future, maybe able to intercept communications, and put them back into the Five Eyes holdings.”
The jury has heard, according to Ortis, the purported foreign intelligence officer warned him the RCMP had a mole that was leaking Five Eyes secrets, and thus Ortis had to act alone on the Tutanota honey pot plan.
Also, Ortis could not share the purported information he received on serious threats to Canada to anyone else in the RCMP — including Ortis’ superiors Bob Paulson and Todd Shean.
But later Thursday, Crown prosecutor Judy Kliewer heaped scorn on Ortis’ story, saying it contained “seven fatal flaws.”
“The story that he told you about why he did, what he did, doesn’t have the slightest grain of truth, or make sense,” Kliewer said. “My suggestion is the story is nothing but an attempt to have you believe his criminal, self-motivated acts in 2015, had some lofty purpose. My submission to you is that his evidence can’t be believed.”
Kliewer reminded the jury of testimony from retired RCMP executive Todd Shean, who was Ortis’ boss.
Shean was the RCMP leader that met with over 100 Five Eyes agency officers in 2014, building a plan to take down Dubai-based Hezbollah money launderer Altaf Khanani, and his Canadian agents, court heard.
What resulted when Ortis reached out to Khanani’s Toronto agents, according to Shean, was the dismantling of Canada’s standing in the Five Eyes, and the sabotage of international probes involving networks that threaten Canada and its allies, Kliewer told the jury.
“This must have caused irreparable harm to the RCMP and betrayed every intelligence partner and could have signed someone’s death warrant,” she said of Shean’s testimony.
“No one person carries out the RCMP’s duties,” Kliewer added, of Ortis’ claims.
“Just like the air traffic controller doesn’t fly the plane,” Kliewer said, “no mission is accomplished by one man.”
“Best and Brightest”
Ortis was mandated to act creatively within the bounds of law in a secretive intelligence unit, Operations Research (OR), that he started in 2010 under the direction of his boss, Bob Paulson, the jury heard Thursday morning.
OR was the only RCMP unit with “unfettered” access to global intelligence and secrets from Five Eyes agencies such as the CIA and NSA, the jury has heard.
And OR — staffed with the “best and brightest” of intelligence specialists — was attempting to protect Canada against grave threats from transnational organized crime, a priority established by Stephen Harper’s cabinet, the jury heard.
But in doing so, Ortis ran an innovative intelligence operation that he cannot fully explain due to secrecy laws, and which has resulted in his prosecution, the jury heard.
“Cam Ortis is not and was not, an enemy to the RCMP and people of Canada,” his lawyer Doody told the jury. “You are the 12 people standing between Mr. Ortis and the state. Cameron Ortis is placing his liberty in your hands.”
The jury heard Ortis is bound by secrecy, and could not tell the court of the foreign agency he has claimed to work for.
Furthermore, the intelligence Ortis has claimed to have sought by luring four RCMP targets into communicating on the Tutanota platform, could not even be shared with Canada, according to his testimony.
Doody said he believes Ortis is the first defendant in Canadian history to take the stand under such sensitive conditions and restrictions.
All four of the targets that Ortis admits to contacting in 2015 presented serious risks to Canada, Doody said.
While the Crown says Ortis was seeking to profit by selling RCMP secrets, there is no evidence Ortis ever received payments from the four targets he admits contacting in 2015, his lawyer said.
“Who are these targets,” Doody said to the jury, with his hand on a black binder holding over 500 pages of evidence agreed upon by the defence and Crown.
“Well, we have Vincent Ramos, the CEO of Phantom Secure, a Canadian-based company providing secure PGP encrypted Blackberry devices to members of organized crime around the world.
We had Salim Henareh. He was involved with his company Rosco Trading in money laundering in the GTA, and had connections to the proliferation of weapons technology.
We had Muhammad Ashraf. The CEO of Finmark Financial, a money service business that was responsible for large scale money laundering with connection to terrorist groups. He was connected to both the Khanani and Polani money laundering groups.”
The fourth target in Ortis’ purported one-man sting, was the son of Iranian-Canadian currency trader Farzam Mehdizadeh, Doody said.
This University of Toronto student, like his father, allegedly had ties to money laundering and weapons technology proliferation.
You are signing his death warrant
In response, Crown prosecutor Kliewer said evidence captured from Ortis’ electronic devices in 2019, shows he was actually trying to reach Farzam Mehdizadeh, via his son.
Notes Ortis made planning out his emails to Farzam Mehdizadeh, show he planned to tell him that the DEA was working with an informant in Montreal, and that Mehdizadeh was on a CSIS watch list, Kliewer said.
Regarding Phantom Secure in Vancouver, Kliewer said Ortis told Ramos of a multi-agency law enforcement and intelligence effort seeking to disrupt the company — as well as a Five Eyes plan to dismantle the international network of Altaf Khanani, who used a Phantom Secure “uncrackable” Blackberry.
Ortis also told Ramos, the Vancouver-based CEO, that police had accessed Phantom Secure’s network servers in Florida and Canada, coached Ramos on how to evade money laundering investigations, and informed him RCMP planned to insert an undercover operator into Ramos’ company, by approaching his tech manager Kapil Judge, at Vancouver International Airport.
The meeting actually took place March 8, 2015, and Ortis advised Ramos before and after, to take precautions, Kliewer said.
“He exposed an undercover operator in the midst of an operation, to a company that provides services to the most dangerous transnational criminals, Cartels, perhaps terrorists,” she said.
Regarding Altaf Khanani’s Toronto agents, Kliewer said: “to Mr. Ashraf, Mr. Ortis communicated about a consolidated effort by Five Eyes law enforcement to take down the money laundering network of Altaf Khanani, to which Mr. Ashraf is linked.”
And, “Mr. Ortis suggested the information he was sharing would be of value to, and inferentially could be shared, with Mr. Khanani himself,” Kliewer added.
She stressed that documents seized from Ortis showed he planned to expose a Toronto-area man named Raza Yousuf, who was involved in the Khanani network, and was arrested by United States Homeland Security, who unsuccessfully tried to make the Canadian man into a cooperating agent.
“I keep coming back to that, because it is one of the pieces of evidence, that disclosed, could lead to someone’s death at worst,” Kliewer said. “You heard that from Todd Shean. You are signing his death warrant.”
On Salim Henareh, Ortis “communicated that he was the subject of police investigations for money laundering and he disclosed to him over 300 pages of reporting that identified the transactions,” Kliewer said. “He invited Mr. Henareh to learn from this information.”
The Crown closes its case Friday, and on Monday, a judge will give the jury its instructions before it retires to deliberate on Ortis’ fate.
Outside of court the principals of Tutanota — a secure email provider based in Germany — have said Ortis’ claims that the company is run by a Five Eyes intelligence agency are pure fiction, and the company is considering legal action to remedy damages it says Ortis has caused to its reputation.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated throughout the day with both Defence and Crown closing arguments on Thursday, November 16, 2023.
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