Ac­tor sent poi­soned wa­ter, trial hears

National Post (Latest Edition) - - TORONTO - BY ME­GAN O’TOOLE

An as­pir­ing ac­tor sent poi­soned wa­ter bot­tles and mail bombs to a list of per­ceived en­e­mies, in­clud­ing tal­ent agents, a bank and a judge, a Su­pe­rior Court trial heard yes­ter­day.

Adel Ar­naout pleaded not guilty yes­ter­day to 16 charges, in­clud­ing at­tempted mur­der, pos­ses­sion of ex­plo­sives and in­tent to cause ex­plo­sions that could se­ri­ously harm or kill oth­ers. The al­le­ga­tions stem from a se­ries of pack­ages sent out be­tween 2004 and 2007 in Toronto and Guelph.

The Crown al­leges Mr. Ar­naout, now about 40 years old, tar­geted peo­ple and busi­nesses against whom he held a grudge.

Sa­roor Zaidi, owner of the de­funct Blitz tal­ent agency, said he re­ceived threat­en­ing let­ters from Mr. Ar­naout in the months be­fore a case of bot­tled wa­ter ar­rived at the com­pany’s down­town of­fice in July, 2004. The wa­ter was pur­port­edly a pro­mo­tional sam­ple from Nestlé, but staff quickly re­al­ized some­thing was off about the prod­uct af­ter a re­cep­tion­ist took a sip.

“It was quite odd,” Mr. Zaidi tes­ti­fied, cit­ing ob­vi­ous signs of tam­per­ing, in­clud­ing pin­prick holes on the cap of each bot­tle and a “hazy” ap­pear­ance to the wa­ter.

“It had an odd smell to it as well,” he told the court.

Si­mon­ette Je­sus, who also worked at Blitz, said the agency helped Mr. Ar­naout as­sem­ble a port­fo­lio, which was sent to po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers in the hopes of land­ing com­mer­cial act­ing work. But his ca­reer did not take off as ex­pected, and he blamed the agency, Ms. Je­sus sug­gested.

“Even­tu­ally I be­lieve he was dis­cour­aged … He be­gan send­ing faxes, death threats,” she tesi­fied.

In some, Mr. Ar­naout warned he was “part of the Rus­sian mafia,” Mr. Zaidi tes­ti­fied. Other threat let­ters were as­sem­bled from pieces of news­pa­per.

Those in­ci­dents ul­ti­mately led to Mr. Ar­naout’s first ar­rest in 2003. He pleaded guilty to crim­i­nal ha­rass­ment and re­ceived a con­di­tional dis­charge; Blitz would hear noth­ing more from Mr. Ar­naout, but re­ceived the tainted wa­ter months later, the court heard.

David Chris­ten of down­town tal­ent agency Chris­ten and As­so­ci­ates, which also took Mr. Ar­naout on as a client, re­counted sim­i­lar de­tails about re­ceiv­ing a case of sus­pi­cious bot­tled wa­ter. He no­ticed pin­prick holes and “white and crusty” de­posits on the caps, along with a “rot­ten egg smell.”

When Mr. Chris­ten looked more closely at the “pro­mo­tional let­ter,” his sus­pi­cions were raised fur­ther.

“The gram­mar was off and the la­belling was off,” he said, not­ing he con­tacted both Nestlé and po­lice.

Tainted wa­ter was also de­liv­ered to a CIBC of­fice and the Old City Hall court­house that sum­mer. The Crown al­leges Mr. Ar­naout had a dis­pute with the bank, and at the court­house, the wa­ter was ad­dressed to the judge who sen­tenced him in the ha­rass­ment mat­ter.

The wa­ter con­tained dimethyl sul­fide, a poi­sonous in­dus­trial sol­vent, the court heard yes­ter­day.

Mr. Ar­naout, clad in a dark sport jacket and blue shirt, with thin­ning hair and drawn fea­tures, watched pro­ceed­ings at­ten­tively and oc­ca­sion­ally took notes as the wit­nesses spoke. He is be­ing tried by judge alone.

Three years af­ter the bot­tled wa­ter in­ci­dents, Mr. Ar­naout al­legedly sent mail bombs to a for­mer room­mate, a handy­man and a lawyer.

One of the pack­ages ex­ploded upon open­ing, but the other two re­cip­i­ents be­came sus­pi­cious of the con­tents and no­ti­fied po­lice, Crown at­tor­ney James Dunda told the court. One no­ticed “a dis­tinct smell of gaso­line” em­a­nat­ing from the pack­age.

A pat­tern emerged of links be­tween Mr. Ar­naout and the pack­age re­cip­i­ents. Ab­del­magid Radi once shared ac­com­mo­da­tions with the ac­cused; lawyer Terrence Reiber had de­fended him in the crim­i­nal ha­rass­ment case; and handy­man John Becker once had a run-in with Mr. Ar­naout in which the ac­cused asked about cer­tain weapons, spurring Mr. Becker to con­tact po­lice, the court heard.

The at­tempted mail bomb­ings gained much pub­lic at­ten­tion in Au­gust, 2007, when po­lice had to shut down the Don Val­ley Park­way on a Fri­day af­ter­noon to trans­port seized ex­plo­sives.

Af­ter Mr. Ar­naout’s ar­rest, au­thor­i­ties who searched his lap­top al­legedly dis­cov­ered ma­te­rial link­ing him to the 2004 bot­tled wa­ter in­ci­dents.

Na­tional Post mo­toole@na­tion­al­post.com

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