Canadian security firm executive sentenced to three years in Lebanon for weapons charge

Open this photo in gallery May 21, 2019: A civilian was killed when a shell hit a classroom in northern Syria’s Idlib province. ANDREY SHAROMOV/Reuters A Lebanese-Canadian executive at a Lebanese-Canadian-led security company was…

Canadian security firm executive sentenced to three years in Lebanon for weapons charge

Open this photo in gallery May 21, 2019: A civilian was killed when a shell hit a classroom in northern Syria’s Idlib province. ANDREY SHAROMOV/Reuters

A Lebanese-Canadian executive at a Lebanese-Canadian-led security company was sentenced to three years in prison Friday in Lebanon for leading a humanitarian convoy carrying illegal weapons.

Judge Samir Debbouh sentenced Nadim Eskander of Mirabel, Quebec, who had been living in Lebanon since 2010, to three years and six months imprisonment, but gave him a suspended sentence and a 100,000 Lebanese pound ($82) fine. Eskander is also prohibited from traveling to Lebanon for five years.

He was convicted for leading a convoy of more than 50 cars loaded with assorted weapons that left Beirut’s airport in July 2014. The convoy was under surveillance by Lebanese authorities and the United Nations, and a cache of weapons was discovered in storage in the nearby coastal city of Tyre.

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In the case of the Norwegian-born Eskander, who headed U.S.-based security firm Traffic, the judge based his sentence on the severity of the consequences of the weapons.

According to court documents, the container had 2,000 mortar shells, 10 anti-tank missiles, an assortment of arms and thousands of bullets hidden in diesel tanks and other areas. The total volume of the cache was more than 32,000 bullets and more than 200 sacks of ammunition.

In March, nearly 200 people, including children, were killed in the deadliest Syrian government airstrike in the seven-year conflict in northern Syria. The event sparked outrage from Syrian opposition groups and the international community, which has been pressing for an immediate end to the conflict.

In a statement issued on Friday, John Oxley, chair of the International Syrian Support Group, said that the conviction and sentencing of Eskander “was yet another clear demonstration of how one person’s act of humanitarianism can lead to the destruction of another’s life.”

Syrian activists had accused Eskander’s team of engaging in military-style training sessions with fighters in northern Syria, using civilian vehicles. A second Canadian-Lebanese executive, with the same firm, was sentenced in February to 11 months in prison and a fine of €1,500 ($2,070) for heading a similar humanitarian mission to deliver ammunition and munitions.

Eskander has denied the charges against him. In a statement issued Thursday through his lawyer, Eskander said that he was framed by “enemies of Syria” looking to pressure Traffic. The company’s website says it “is dedicated to the achievement of a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Syria by working with the entire range of stakeholders within the region and beyond.”

In an interview with the Montreal newspaper La Presse last year, Eskander defended his tactics as a humanitarian aid worker, and said he sent the containers of weapons to Syria through the UN.

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Yasser al-Mleif, a Syrian opposition activist, said that the convicted businessman was the brainchild of Carleton University professor Ahmed Halabi, the founder of Traffic. Mr. Halabi himself fled Syria following the beginning of the conflict in 2011.

Mr. Halabi could not be reached for comment Friday.

With files from The Associated Press

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