In the early morning hours of December 15, 2011, more than 100 officers from multiple police agencies converged on five locations across BC's lower mainland in a dramatic raid that netted more than $220,000 in cash and more than four kilograms of methamphetamine. It was the culmination of a wide-ranging investigation into alleged illicit drug production dubbed "Project Enape" that targeted, among others, Ultrascience Male Research Corp.—a British Columbian company that purported to make legal pharmaceuticals and male hair-growth products—and its owner, Kourosh Bakhtiari.
Bakhtiari, an Iranian-born refugee, was arrested that day at his apartment on Pacific Street in Vancouver. The Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, which led the investigation, trumpeted the results in a press release claiming victory over a massive commercial-scale drug operation with links to organized crime in BC.
But the sheet of criminal charges recommended by police against Bakhtiari and three others was never approved by the Crown. Although he and his co-accused consented to the civil forfeiture of more than $220,000, the criminal case against them never materialized. Bakhtiari has never been charged as a result of the investigation, and to date, has no criminal record in British Columbia.
Almost 16 years to the day earlier, on December 10, 1995, Bakhtiari, then in his early 30s, arrived at Vancouver International Airport without a legal passport or travel documents, according to an affidavit filed with the Federal Court. He had finished up a stint in a US prison where he'd been convicted of weapons and escape charges related to an attempt to buy a Manhattan apartment while impersonating a State Department employee in the spring of 1988. He was caught with a briefcase that "contained a host of weapons—including an M-11 9-millimeter semi-automatic pistol containing a magazine loaded with ten rounds, a silencer for the gun, a knife, grenades, and a garrote—as well as bottles of strychnine and chloroform," according to a ruling from the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
He gained a degree of infamy when he and two other inmates escaped from New York's Metropolitan Correctional Center using a rope fashioned out of 15 packages of dental floss braided together. He also tried to flee the Manhattan hospital where he was being treated for injuries he suffered during his dental-floss aided escape, according to a March 1989 New York Times report. Bakhtiari's case was also a feather in the cap for the man who prosecuted him, James Comey, who would go on to become the current director of the FBI. (Comey declined to speak publicly about the case for this story, but through a spokesperson, said he remembered the case well.)
Not long after paying his debt to society in the US and being deported to Iran, Bakhtiari arrived in Canada and applied for refugee status fearing torture back in Iran, claiming in an affidavit that his father was captured, tortured, and killed for leading a revolt against the Islamic regime in 1984. But an adjudicator with the Immigration and Refugee Board found him inadmissible to Canada because of his criminal convictions in the US and issued a conditional deportation order against Bakhtiari on April 9, 1996. He challenged the decision in the Federal Court of Canada, but his application was dismissed.
Bakhtiari still counts Vancouver as his home to this day, but his bid for permanent residency hit a snag on March 5, 2015, when he was told that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration refused to grant him "an exemption for humanitarian and compassionate grounds from the applicable legislative requirements to process his application for permanent residence in Canada." He is currently seeking a judicial review of that decision in the Federal Court of Canada.
Bakhtiari is also on a different collision course with Canada's legal system, unrelated to his immigration status.
More than three years after his arrest, Bakhtiari is taking the BC government to court in an effort to fully clear his name from the drug bust. He claims in the lawsuit that equipment worth nearly $1 million was seized from Ultrascience and never returned, and police were either negligent or malicious in their investigation, catching him in a web spun by officers wrongly convinced he was a cog in a machine cranking out illegal drugs, using his business to hide a rogue chemistry lab.
Bakhtiari's is suing the BC Ministry of Justice for illegal search, seizure, arrest, detention, and prosecution and seeks damages for personal and business losses allegedly caused by negative publicity surrounding the raid. He claims that after the police operation, he was barred from Ultrascience's premises on Lillooet Street by its landlord and lost business from clients all over the world.
Bakhtiari claims police erroneously linked the raid to the biker gangs while publicizing the operation.
"Bakhtiari was not, is not and never has been a member or affiliate of any 'BC biker gang,' nor were he and/or Ultrascience involved in the manufacture or distribution of illicit narcotics including methamphetamines," his lawsuit states.
In the "concluding remarks" section in the report to Crown counsel outlining Project Enape, submitted to prosecutors by CFSEU member April Biles, investigators acknowledge that "no direct evidence was obtained linking the accused to the Hells Angels or any other defined criminal organization."
The BC government refused to comment on the case since it's a matter before the courts. However, the government claims in its legal response to the lawsuit that Bakhtiari brought the raid upon himself, and denies any wrongdoing by police. In its response to Bakhtiari's claim, the government claims that the "search of the Ultrascience Property yielded evidence consistent with its use as a location for the manufacture of controlled substances," including four kilograms of crystal meth, 22 grams of MDMA, and "significant quantities of fentanyl." Moreover, the police search of Bakhtiari's apartment allegedly turned up quantities of meth, MDMA, fentanyl, and ketamine, as well as more than $13,000 in cash.
The government claims the searches "were based upon reasonable and probable grounds and were proper in law," and defends the issuance of the subsequent press release, claiming that statements made in it were true, constituted fair comment and were a matter of public interest, citing the relatively new legal defense of "responsible reporting" against libel and slander claims. (Bakhtiari's lawsuit also named Postmedia Network and crime reporter Kim Bolan over the Vancouver Sun's coverage of the press release, but that aspect of the lawsuit was settled out of court.)
The BC government is also relying on the legal defense known as "ex turpicausa non orituractio," a legal term meaning that someone can't sue for damages or loss arising from their own illegal act.
Bakhtiari's lawyer, Neil Chantler, says his client maintains his innocence and cautioned against seeing his client's shady past "out of context." Chantler, in a phone interview with VICE, said Bakhtiari's business is complex and not easily understood, especially by police.
"When you're dabbling in cosmetic and pharmaceutical research, and you're actually designing improved forms of Viagra and things, you're dealing with chemicals that are regulated heavily and the police think of as nothing but precursors to illicit substances, which is not always the case," said Chantler. "His business is in a very technical scientific area that you and I can't possibly fully understand and nor can the police. The police are trying to grapple with complex regulations that they might not have memorized when they go into a facility or when they lay charges.
"It's a very technically complex area, and there's room for mistakes and that's perhaps what happened," he added. "The allegations that there were kilos of illicit drugs lying around are fabricated. They are simply untrue, according to my client."
Chantler, though, stated that he recognizes the difficulty "reconciling" the government's unproven allegations against Bakhtiari since he was never charged with a crime.
"It's a curious situation, isn't it?" Chantler said. "It makes a good story."
By Darryl Greer - Vice/April 1, 2015
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