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Ortis to testify he "protected Canada from serious and imminent threats"
Jury has heard Toronto currency trader Ortis reached out to, worked with world's "most important money launderers" and was targeted by CBSA in Iran counterproliferation probe
Thursday morning, minutes before Canadian media were barred from an Ottawa court room, a jury heard that former RCMP intelligence director Cameron Ortis did not betray Canada, but used secret information from a “foreign agency” to protect the nation against transnational criminal threats.
In one of the most sensitive court cases in Canada’s history, the jury will hear Thursday that Ortis used secret information — so sensitive that he cannot discuss it with the jury — his lawyer said.
“Now [Ortis] will tell Canada why he did what he did,” his lawyer Mark Ertel said. “He protected Canada from serious and imminent threats.”
The trial has been conducted in the midst of publication bans due to the highly classified documents involved.
The jury has heard that Ortis’ intelligence unit, Operations Research, was only able to operate because it received classified information including signals intelligence from Canada’s intelligence partners, including the CIA and NSA.
Ortis is accused of sharing that intelligence with global money launderers targeted by Canada’s allies, so that Ortis could enrich himself.
“He's going to tell you why he had a duty to act, why his actions were appropriate, why they were necessary in all the circumstances,” Ertel told the jury Thursday.
Thus far, in cross-examinations, Ortis’ lawyers have suggested he was running a top secret undercover operation from Operations Research, that none of his colleagues had any awareness of.
That includes his superior, retired assistant commissioner Todd Shean, who has testified he had believed deeply in Ortis but was shocked at his leaking of secrets to international terror networks.
This week Shean told the jury documents they have reviewed showed Ortis could have signed the “death warrant” of a man being investigated by the U.S. Homeland Security agency, by leaking information to a number of alleged Hezbollah money launderers in Toronto, who worked for an Iranian state-sponsored criminal named Altaf Khanani.
“You're indicating to the leader of that organization that's running a multi-international money-laundering organization, that a member of his organization can't be trusted, that he has a potential leak,” Shean said, of a message allegedly found on Ortis’ encrypted devices.
But there was a reason behind all of this, Ortis’ lawyer claimed to the jury, in preparation for the defendant’s testimony Thursday.
“His actions were in large part a result of secret information communicated to him by a foreign agency. And he's going to be forbidden from telling you what the information was or what the foreign agency was,” Ertel said.
“So he's defending himself with one hand tied behind his back.”
While Ortis is arguing he had full authority to share sensitive information with Toronto-based agents of Hezbollah believed to be involved in massive Canadian money laundering and terror financing operations, the jury has heard from RCMP witnesses that Ortis compromised crucial Five Eyes investigations and his actions have damaged the trust that underlies Canada’s security.
Toronto Counterproliferation Target
Last week — in hearings covered by national security publication bans — the jury heard from members of Operations Research who had worked for Ortis.
The elite unit was developed under Ortis in 2010 and under the guidance of his close friend Bob Paulson, the former Commissioner, according to transcripts of last week’s testimony.
Prior to starting OR — which was meant to bring the RCMP up to the FBI’s level by accessing ultra-sensitive intelligence to identify and counter serious terror threats — Ortis had worked with Canadian telecommunications companies to protect them against cyber-attacks, the jury has heard.
As The Bureau has reported, Ortis entered the RCMP after studying Chinese criminal cyber-capabilities with University of B.C. professor Paul Evans, a sinologist with access to Chinese security officials that assisted Ortis and Evans in their ground-breaking research.
Ortis hand-picked OR’s elite intelligence analysts, and by 2014 and 2015, the team was working on sensitive Five Eyes investigations that uncovered a network of Iranian-Canadian currency shops in Toronto with links to international terror-financing and money laundering for drug traffickers, the jury has heard.
One of the RCMP’s primary money laundering targets, Iranian-Canadian Farzam Mehdizadeh, was linked to a Tehran-based business, Altaf Khanani and another Dubai-based international narco-kingpin, money launderer and terror financier, named Harmohan Hakimzada.
“We were looking at Mehdizadeh as a money launderer, but one of the companies associated to him was also of interest from a counterproliferation perspective,” Ortis’ former OR analyst Walter Mendonca told the jury.
“Farzam Mehdizadeh based on my assessment, was working with some of what we would call these super-facilitators — the most important money launderers in the world. It was Harmohan Hakimzada … and Altaf Khanani.”
Counterproliferation refers to law enforcement operations aimed at stopping the shipment of technology or materials for chemical or nuclear weapons to sanctioned nations.
The jury heard that OR worked with Canada Border Services Agency on concerns that Mehdizadeh’s company was using Canada to ship banned technology from the United States, to Iran.
The Crown read from one of Mendonca’s email exchanges with CBSA on the matter, which said:
“Good morning, Walter. Here’s [redaction] and his business ties. As for his possible counterproliferation connection, our analyst has him linked to RAK Ceramics, that they believe is moving US merchandise through Canada to Iran.”
Ortis’ lawyers have established in cross-examinations that OR’s mandate was to stop serious threats inside Canada — or to assist the Five Eyes in countering threats emanating from Canada — and implied that Ortis could have been secretly disrupting Middle Eastern terror financing cells in Toronto.
It is expected that transcripts of Ortis’ testimony on Thursday will be released to The Bureau after a judge vets the information for national security reasons.