Contributed by: Don WinnerBy Aaron Derfel - Arthur Porter’s extradition to Quebec has been put on hold as his lawyer continues to file legal motions before the Supreme Court of Panama challenging his detention in prison.
A spokesperson for Panama’s foreign affairs ministry told the Montreal Gazette that Porter’s lawyer has filed a habeas corpus writ — a legal motion seeking his release unless lawful grounds are shown for his detention.
“There are still reviews to be made in the habeas corpus,” Stacy Pérez said Tuesday. “For this reason, the extradition will not proceed.”
Monica de León, another official with Panama’s foreign affairs ministry, added: “At the moment, there are a series of pending habeas corpus to be resolved by the Supreme Court of Justice. Once (it) makes a pronouncement, the chancellery can then make a decision with respect to the extradition.”
On Monday, a spokesperson for Canada’s Justice Department gave a similar statement, writing in an email that “the matter of Mr. Porter’s extradition remains before the courts in Panama and his challenge will be processed according to their laws and procedures.
“Due to the confidential nature of state-to-state communications, the government cannot comment further on extradition requests,” Andrew Gowing said.
Held for nearly 600 days
In the meantime, Porter will remain in La Joya jail, where he has been incarcerated for nearly 600 days. Porter was arrested in Panama with his wife, Pamela Mattock Porter, on May 27, 2013, on charges that he was the mastermind behind an alleged conspiracy to defraud the McGill University Health Centre of $22.5 million.
Over the weekend, some news organizations reported that Porter’s extradition to Canada was imminent.
A source close to the case — who agreed to be interviewed on condition of anonymity — told the Montreal Gazette on Monday that Panama had recently agreed to Canada’s request to extradite Porter.
“There is still an administrative process left, and that’s why we don’t have a date yet for the extradition,” the source said, adding that provincial police were expecting to fly to Panama to escort Porter back to Quebec.
The source, however, was vague on some details about the case. And Quebec Crown prosecutor Marie-Hélène Giroux, who had spoken publicly in the past about Porter’s case, did not return several phone messages and emails.
Porter is being represented in court by Ricardo Bilonick, a U.S.-trained lawyer and former Panamanian ambassador to the United States who once boasted close ties with Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega.
Since October 2013, Bilonick has filed and lost at least three challenges before Panama’s Supreme Court over Canada’s extradition request, court records show.
Filed $140-million lawsuit
On June 25, Bilonick filed on behalf of Porter a $140-million lawsuit (150 million Panamanian balboas) against the government of Panama, claiming his client has been denied medical treatment for what he says is advanced lung cancer that has spread throughout Porter’s body.
Bilonick has also argued that Porter was on a so-called diplomatic mission on behalf of his native Sierra Leone when he was arrested unlawfully.
This month marks the second anniversary of Porter’s diagnosis of non-small cell lung cancer (adenocarcinoma). The median survival for Porter’s stage of disease is nine months. Porter says he believes he has been responding well to an experimental drug that Bilonick delivers to him in jail.
Bilonick was not available for comment despite email and phone messages left with him since Friday.
Steven Slimovitch, a Montreal lawyer with an expertise on extradition matters, said the length of time that Porter has spent in jail challenging his extradition is highly unusual.
On Dec. 18, Pamela Porter pleaded guilty to two counts of money laundering and was sentenced to two years in jail for her role in the alleged MUHC bid-rigging scam.
Arthur Porter is the only person out of a total of nine people — including former SNC-Lavalin executives — who has not appeared in a Quebec court to answer to criminal charges. Police allege that Porter was behind a conspiracy to award the $1.3-billion superhospital construction contract to engineering firm SNC-Lavalin in exchange for $22.5 million in secret commissions. (Montreal Gazette)