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Former spy watchdog Arthur Porter won’t live to see trial: oncologist

In this photo taken Saturday, March 2, 2013, Dr. Arthur Porter speaks with a reporter at his home in Nassau, Bahamas.

Jeff Todd/The Associated Press

A British cancer expert involved in treating Arthur Porter says the former head of Canada's spy watchdog will not live to see a fraud trial in this country unless it happens within a year.

Karol Sikora, an oncologist who once headed the World Health Organization's cancer program, says Dr. Porter has enjoyed improved short-term health but he still has terminal cancer that will kill him in six months to a year. "The prognosis is not good. He'll never go to trial," Dr. Sikora said in an interview Sunday evening, moments after calling Dr. Porter in a Panamanian prison to obtain permission to release the prognosis.

Dr. Sikora offered the timeline despite "vowing to never make another one publicly" after he erroneously predicted the quick death of the Lockerbie bomber in a high-profile embarrassment. He said he has followed Dr. Porter's case since last fall, when carcinoma was found in his lungs during treatment for a persistent cough.

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Dr. Porter, 56, did not respond to initial chemotherapy and suffered a setback in February when a blood clot moved into his lungs, Dr. Sikora said. He has recovered from the clot and has bounced back from cancer thanks to an experimental drug called Crizotinib. But resistance to the drug usually kicks in after six to eight months, he said.

"We've been blessed with the response, but the response usually lasts six to eight months," said Dr. Sikora, a partner in a Bahamian cancer clinic with Dr. Porter, who he first met 35 years ago. "He's seriously ill. Nothing has changed on that."

Dr. Sikora said he felt compelled to speak publicly after a high-ranking prison official in Panama suggested Dr. Porter is not that ill.

After months of saying he was too sick to travel to Canada and face justice, including as recently as March 1, Dr. Porter and his wife, Pamela Porter, were stopped in Panama by local authorities on an Interpol warrant en route to Trinidad and Tobago last week.

Panamanian authorities said Dr. Porter is not visibly ill, although he has been administering oral chemotherapy and carries an oxygen tank. (Dr. Sikora says he has a three-week supply of drugs.) One official suggested Dr. Porter seems to slow down any time a Canadian camera crew is about to capture his movements.

"He told me that the doctors said that they gave him three months of life, but he's still alive and he doesn't look bad," said Alexis Muñoz, Panama's deputy director of the Bureau of Judicial Investigation.

Dr. Sikora said not every terminal cancer patient follows a direct downward trajectory. "He really has cancer. There's a certain amount of scurrilousness to all this. He does look well. But even people with metastatic cancer can do well."

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Six months ago, shortly after Dr. Porter's conduct came under scrutiny in the awarding of a $1.3-billion contract to build a hospital in Montreal, the physician declared to a Bahamian newspaper that he was suffering from lung cancer that had spread to his liver. (Dr. Porter has been wanted for months on fraud-related accusations, and his wife faces a related charge.)

Dr. Sikora is no stranger to controversial prognoses. He is the cancer expert who predicted in 2009 that Pan Am bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi would die within three months. The prognosis opened the door for Scottish justice officials to release the terrrorist to Libya, where he lived three more years.

Dr. Porter's transfer to one of Panama's most dangerous prisons late last week bodes poorly for any treatment. The La Joya complex, which houses about 7,000 inmates, is known for unsanitary conditions, overcrowding and poor medical care.

According to Mr. Muñoz, Dr. Porter is with 400 other foreigners, most of them South Americans charged with drug offences, in a "slightly better" pavilion that gets upgrades, such as repaired plumbing, from the embassies of foreign inmates.

Ricardo Bilonick, Dr. Porter's lawyer, will be asking Panamanian judges to release him and his wife on bail this week. They will remain in prison while the request is processed.

Mr. Bilonick said that if Dr. Porter is not granted bail, it may be better to accept voluntary extradition to get out of La Joya.

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"He's not in good condition to be in jail," he said. "If you're cold or have a sore throat, yes, but if you have cancer or AIDS, then jail is not the place. We're weighing all the possibilities–he's certainly decided to fight."

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About the Author
National correspondent

Les Perreaux joined the Montreal bureau of the Globe and Mail in 2008. He previously worked for the Canadian Press covering national and international affairs, including federal and Quebec politics and the war in Afghanistan. More

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