Spent almost a year in jail there but still wants to go back - once the
$188-million lawsuit is settled

GUELPH - Paul Wylie is willing to forgive and forget.

As he sits in the living room of his Guelph home, he makes it very clear
that, given the opportunity, he would return to Nicaragua - the country he
officially sued for $188 million on Nov. 8 of this year.

It's also the country that had him arrested at gunpoint on Christmas Eve in
1998 and kept him in a dirty federal prison for 11 months. His story sounds
more like an action movie than the tale of a man trying to do business in a
developing country.

"I'd go back," he said. "My family thinks I'm crazy, but I think my work
there is unfinished. I still believe the commercial hemp operation we were
operating there can help the people and the country in many different ways.

"I know it can work. We were just about to harvest our first crop, but
testing we had done just weeks before that showed promising results. Then
they burned down the operation and threw me in jail."

Despite having government approval to extract oil and other byproducts from
the plants, Wylie and his partners were falsely portrayed as big
international drug smugglers. Their company, Hemp-Agro, lost tractors,
irrigation equipment and tonnes of commercial hemp when the police set the
fields on fire.

At the time, the government said it was the biggest drug bust in Central
American history. Wylie and his partners were charged with cultivation and
drug trafficking, but the Guelph resident was the only one of his group in
the country at the time.

"I was in a cab when a car pulled in front of us and these guys wearing
balaclavas riding motorbikes surrounded us. They all had machine pistols and
they didn't identify themselves as police.

"The cab driver took off. He was scraping the side of his car on an abutment
to try and get away. I heard this 'pop pop' sound, then the back window of
the cab blew out. I had glass down my butt.

"They stopped the car, the cab driver took off and I tried to grab the
handle and open my door. I guess the adrenaline was flowing; it (the handle)
came off in my hands. They reached in and grabbed me and my feet never
touched ground again."

Wylie was taken to jail, had a trial without ever seeing a judge, jury or
lawyer and was sent to a federal prison on Jan. 3, 1999. While there, he had
to pay for his own food and he lost 30 pounds. It took three months to get a
call home and his only regular contact outside the prison was with his
lawyer and a Canadian consulate representative who took him books to read.

"By the end of the 11 months, I had the largest English library in the
prison," Wylie jokes. "My main focus for those months was just staying
alive. Prisons are a strange place. When you know you're not guilty of a
crime, you tend to spend time with other people in similar circumstances.
Now I know how guys like Steven Truscott and the others who get put in jail
for something they didn't do must feel.

"From May (1999) on, I kept hearing I was going to be released in a few
weeks. Their court of appeal has a three-judge panel and two of them had
already agreed to let me out; the third left the country for a while to get
some plastic surgery done.

"Even if she thought I was guilty, the majority would have got me out, but
they had to wait until she signed off."

When he was finally released on Dec. 3, 1999, he left the country the next
day by crossing the border into Costa Rica with the help of some crocodile
hunters. Wylie and his partners were all officially exonerated by the
highest court in Nicaragua in February 2000.

When he returned in November of this year to file his lawsuit against the
government, his lawyer met him at the airport with armed body guards. They
stayed out of view until they got to court the next day to file the
necessary papers to start procedures.

While there, they drove past the fields Wylie and his partners had leased
for their hemp operation three years ago. Nicaragua was chosen for the
operations because you can grow two full crops a year in that soil and that
climate.

The hemp oil is used to manufacture paints, textiles, cosmetics, building
materials and other commercial products. It had a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
level of less than two per cent, which is too low to have any value as a
street drug. Marijuana, as a drug, generally has a THC level of more than 20
per cent.

"It's nothing new. The paints Van Gogh and Rembrandt used were mixed with
hemp oil. It lasts longer and stays sharper than the linseed oil used now."

"There's a new government there that was put in place because it wants to
improve international trade and get tough on crime," Wylie said. "The new
president's son had visited our operations a number of times and I'm hoping
that will help because he knows we're a legitimate business.

"This is something I know can work. You're talking about a country with
about 90 per cent unemployment that must rely heavily on imported goods. You
can produce a green fuel out of hemp that will cut down on the oil imports
needed to run the country.

"The hemp crop was restoring nutrients in the soil where it was growing,
which means other crops could be grown there. We would be creating 50 jobs
to start in a rural area where no jobs exist. We'd also be showing the
international business community that Nicaragua is willing to work with them
to improve the economy."

Wylie doesn't expect to get the $188 million he asked for in the lawsuit.
Instead, he'd like to encourage the government to give him 20,000 hectares
of land not currently being used to develop a large agricultural operation.
There could be 2,000 jobs created by the next year, using technology tested
and proven in Canada.

"About 85 per cent of the land in Nicaragua is decimated," Wylie said. "We
can bring it back to grow cereal crops again. We'll be putting food on their
plates, food in their markets and using grain products for energy.

"What I went through sounds more like a spy novel than anything. It's behind
me now and it's time to look forward. I want to work with the Nicaraguan
government and people because it can be good for everyone.

"But there are times when I can still smell that prison. . ."


Newshawk: Herb
Pubdate: December 3, 2001
Source: Guelph Mercury (CN ON)
Website: http://www.guelphmercury.com/
Contact: editor@guelphmercury.com
Copyright: 2001 Guelph Mercury Newspapers Limited
Author: Alan Ferris