A man who vanished a decade ago in a possible underworld killing set up offshore companies and bank accounts before he went missing, and is among the 450 Canadians named in secret records of offshore holdings obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Greg Cyr's ex-wife is now asking police to take a new look at his disappearance, after Canada's CBC News showed her secret financial documents found amid the leaked files.

Cyr, a 40-year-old dry waller, disappeared in 2003 after heading to a meeting in Vancouver with what police later told Miriam Byrne were her former husband's "underworld connections."

"What's frustrating for me is it took years … years to put a picture together," Byrne said after looking at some of the records. The files were part of an unprecedented leak of financial data obtained by the Washington-based ICIJ and shared with the CBC and other global media outlets.

"If we would have had this…" Byrne said, pausing. "I'm speechless."

The documents show that the year before Cyr disappeared, he set up two companies through a firm called TrustNet, which provides offshore services in the Cook Islands, a South Pacific tax haven.

Cyr used one of his companies, Sentinel Holdings, to buy a $1.5-million property on Beach Drive in Victoria. The area is an exclusive waterfront neighbourhood adjoining the Royal Victoria Yacht Club and Victoria Golf Club. But Cyr kept his ownership of the house a secret from his ex-wife, even as he did construction work on it.

"I thought it was his employer's," she said. 

Devoted dad

By then, Byrne and Cyr were divorced, with a five-year-old son. 

Byrne said their marriage ended after Cyr confessed he had shipped some marijuana from British Columbia to Whitehorse.

Cyr eventually convinced her he had straightened out, Byrne said, and he was gradually permitted more time with their son.

As a dry waller, he'd be up at dawn to head to job sites. Later, he ran a tile and wood import business. He became a devoted father who doted on their son.

"I remember him on the phone saying to me, 'Miriam, the one thing I've done right in my life is be a dad,' "  Byrne recalled.

Their son cherished his father's visits. "Greg would ring the doorbell, our son would run up and next thing you know, all they did was roll around and wrestle," Byrne said.

So it came as a shock one day in October 2003 when Cyr failed to pick their boy up from school. He has never been heard from since.

Byrne later applied to the B.C. Supreme Court to have Cyr declared dead, so she could claim a life insurance payout for their son. 

The judge heard evidence that as a youth, Cyr sold drugs and associated with the Hells Angels, and that Vancouver police had told Byrne her ex-husband was murdered by associates.

Cyr's girlfriend at the time described him in an affidavit as "frightened… like a child about to be left alone" on the day he went to the meeting from which he never returned.

But Judge Malcolm Macaulay rejected Byrne's bid, finding it was equally likely that Cyr earned money through the illegal drug trade, had sizeable hidden assets and was motivated to disappear.

Cyr had fled before. Born Brent Thurston, he ran from a charge of narcotics possession in Manitoba in 1988. A warrant was issued for his arrest. Cyr eventually moved to the Yukon and changed his name.  The warrant is still outstanding.

It was a history Cyr kept mainly hidden from Byrne until after they were married. But she never believed he could do it again.

"He would have had our son not feel like he'd lost biggest most important thing in his life," Byrne said. "He wouldn't do that".

Trustnet stonewalls

Armed with that conviction, Byrne appealed to TrustNet for answers. She had obtained a duffle bag of documents linking Cyr to the offshore-services firm from his girlfriend. And in January 2004, three months after Cyr vanished, Byrne picked up the phone and called the company in the Cook Islands.

"I remember it like it was yesterday.  I remember my heart racing and sitting at my desk and trying to be very professional and not emotional," she said.

"At that point we just wanted to get any clue as to where he might have gone, what might have happened. Something."

A record of that call is among the documents obtained by ICIJ and shared with CBC News.

"Miriam Byrne called," TrustNet employee Amanda Keu wrote in a memo in Cyr's offshore account.

Keu noted that Byrne "appeared to be very distressed and was crying" about her missing ex-husband, who she believed was dead. 

"She just wanted to know if he was alive," Keu wrote.

But Keu clung to the Cook Islands' strict financial-secrecy laws and refused to acknowledge anything about Cyr.  After hanging up, TrustNet employees tried to reach Cyr by phone and email. There is no record he ever responded.

"I remember just thinking, 'Can someone just tell me something?' " Byrne recounted. 

TrustNet continued to stonewall inquiries about Cyr four months later when a receiver in B.C. faxed and called with a court order empowering him to act on Cyr's behalf.  The employee who responded said TrustNet "did not recognize foreign judgments."

Privately, though, the firm eventually started having concerns. Seven months after its client went missing, the company filed a report with the Cook Islands Financial Intelligence Unit, indicating Cyr might have been involved in criminal transactions or money laundering.

But TrustNet continued to frustrate the B.C. receiver.  A TrustNet employee told him that "unless he was a shareholder or office holder of the company, we could not divulge any information" about the "structure of business affairs of the company". 

Miriam Byrne.

Secrecy for sale

In contrast, Greg Cyr met with very little scrutiny when setting up his companies and their bank accounts.

TrustNet asked him to provide details about his business, and Cyr wrote that the purpose of Sentinel Holdings was "financing other companies and business ventures," and that the source of his funds was an import-export business.

Cyr also had to provide a bank reference, which amounted to a form letter from his local branch of TD Canada Trust vouching for the fact that Cyr had a chequing account.

The annual fee for maintaining his offshore company was about $1,500. For that price, Cyr got secrecy. A note on his file makes it clear that "the owner, Mr. Cyr, does not want his name revealed as the beneficial owner of the company."

"It was strictly superficial," money-laundering investigator Gary Clement said about TrustNet's due diligence in vetting Cyr as a client.

CBC News showed the Cyr files to Clement, who spent 30 years with the RCMP and now manages an international financial consulting firm in Ontario.

"It really enabled people like Mr. Cyr to set up businesses, set up a number of accounts using different companies without really establishing his bona fides. And that really is the case here," Clement said.

Still listed as missing person

TrustNet eventually complied with the court order in Cyr's case and revealed his assets, which didn't amount to much more than the house in Victoria.

Byrne's lawyer, Greg Harney, said he doesn't fault TrustNet for withholding information about its clients, if all that exists are suspicions of criminality.

Cyr "was a businessman, and there were perhaps issues, and none of them were ultimately confirmed by anybody, including the police," Harney said.  

The Vancouver Police Department still lists Cyr as missing person on its website, even though in 2010 Harney was successful in getting the B.C. Supreme Court to declare Cyr dead. 

The department declined to discuss the case, but Harney thinks investigators might be interested in a discovery CBC News made after examining the leaked TrustNet files.

Those documents show Cyr shared details about his secret company with a friend, Robert Chernochan. Cyr authorized Chernochan, who was a real estate agent at the time, to handle details connected with the Victoria house he bought.

Robert Chernochan.

Last September, Chernochan was arrested in California at a truck inspection station. He was driving a tractor-trailer north to Canada. Highway patrol officers found 66 kilograms of cocaine in a hidden compartment.

Chernochan is now in jail on narcotics trafficking charges, held on $5 million US bail. Neither he nor his lawyer responded to requests for interviews.

Clement said Chernochan is someone police should talk to.

"If I was still in law enforcement and this was my case, I definitely would make that overture to the authorities in the United States to see if we could get co-operation."

Byrne said she recalls police telling her 10 years ago that they had tried to speak to Chernochan as part of the investigation into Cyr's disappearance, but he proved elusive. She had no idea at the time about TrustNet, the offshore accounts it set up and Chernochan's role in them.

"If I had this," Byrne said, "I would have marched this down to the police to say please, please … please interview them."

Curt Petrovich is a reporter for CBC Radio in Canada.