Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Trial ends, B.C. Rail scandal smell lingers on

The B.C. Rail scandal has cost taxpayers some thing above $15 million.
And without more answers, that looks like a very poor bargain.
The trial ended with a whimper Monday.
Dave Basi and Bob Virk, former Liberal political aides, pleaded guilty to accepting benefits in return for leaking confidential information about the B.C. Rail sale to lobbyists for one of the bidders, Omnitrax.
Virk, the ministerial assistant to former transport minister Judith Reid, took a trip to Denver to an NFL game worth about $1,500.
Basi, aide to former finance minister Gary Collins, went on the trip and received another $25,695.
They also admitted leaking information to Bruce Clark, a federal Liberal fundraiser and a lobbyist (and brother of former deputy premier Christy Clark).
In a plea bargain, they were sentenced to two years of relaxed house arrest and Basi will have to pay a fine equal to the benefits they received.
Case closed, says Premier Gordon Campbell. Two rogue political staffers caught. Justice done. No questions to answer.
That's not true though.
For starters, people are wondering why Basi and Virk decided to cut a plea bargain after years of protesting their innocence.
Or, for that matter, why the special prosecutor Bill Berardino accepted sentences that look much like slaps on the wrist for a serious violation of the public trust.
For Basi and Virk, there are about six million reasons to take the fall.
That's the incredible amount - $6 million - spent so far on their legal defence.
Standard procedure calls for the government to pick up the tab for employees' legal bills - unless they're ultimately found guilty, in which case they have to pay their own legal costs.
But the plea bargain included an agreement that government - that is, you - will cover their costs. They also got out of what looked increasingly like an endless legal process.
Berardino says he accepted the plea bargain because the trial would have dragged on for months and the duo acknowledged their guilt. The decision - made just before Collins was to testify - was his alone.
But that's not really true either. The special prosecutor can't agree to cover legal fees; that decision has to be made by the government.
And that raises at least the perception that the Liberals were interested in heading off more evidence in this trial.
I would have liked to hear from Collins. The statement of facts agreed on by both sides says Basi arranged a dinner at an Italian restaurant with two representatives of Omnitrax, the unsuccessful bidder the lobbyists were working for, and Collins and told them he would offer a "consolation prize." Collins never made such an offer, the statement adds. (Police had the meeting under surveillance.)
But it would be useful to hear him explain whether there was any reason for Basi to believe that was true.
I'd like to hear from Erik Bornman and Brian Kieran, the lobbyists who bribed Basi and Virk, on whether this was standard business practice and how they managed to avoid charges.
I'd like to hear from Clark about why he got inside information from the two men.
I would very much like to hear From Basi and Virk about what they were doing and why they were doing it.
And I would like to hear how the justice system has become so broken that a case can take seven years and bills for prosecution and defence lawyers can top $10 million.
The B.C. Rail deal smells. The Liberals promised not to sell the railway in 2001 and then turned around and did just that. (No reasonable person would believe that a 990-year lease isn't a sale.)
CP Rail, one of the bidders, pulled out, alleging the bid process was unfairly rigged to make sure CN ended up owning the railway.
And Omnitrax was being fed inside information.
Campbell says British Columbians shouldn't worry about any of this, or about the fact that senior political aides have been convicted on criminal charges.
But a lot of people are likely to find all this very troubling unless an inquiry of some kind is eventually called.
Footnote: Basi also pleaded guilty to accepting $50,000 to help get land out of the agricultural land reserve in the capital region. The land was released and developed. The government says Basi's efforts made no difference.


Ed Seedhouse said...

Where there is someone who takes a bribe, there is someone else who offers that bribe. Why has nobody been charged with making the bribe?

Can someone bribe with impunity an employee of the Premier's office in B.C.?

Looks like it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Paul you have said it like it is.

More questions and no answers.

DPL said...

The two guys who pled guilty was on channel 12 this evening getting softball questions from Sashi Kurl( sp). The program actually got around to showing the two homes , estimated by channel 12 at half a million each. ( A low estimate in my view) No problem sleeping and want to be with their families, etc etc. Gordo was his usual , it's somebody else at fault which most thinking people simply won't be buying

North Van's Grumps said...

The RCMP were out in force Monday morning, in court room #54, and it was the taxpayers who were picking up their tab just so they could stand around and gloat.

Who tipped them off to be there, who tipped the msm to be there as well?

The Special prosecutor, The Defense, or the BC Liberals AG department?

Dave said...

Paul, you describe the sentences as a "slap on the wrist", but don't overlook the dreadful impact of seven years' inconvenience to the new convicts, as their post-game interviews made clear. I mean, that must be upsetting!

Of course, if they had plead guilty in the first place, they might have avoided the inconvenience and saved us citizens a few mega-clams, but that didn't seem to penetrate their consciousness any more than the fact that they have committed a crime.

Anonymous said...

Gary Mason reports that the BC Liberals have placed a muzzle on Dave Basi and Bob Virk - they are not allowed to talk about the deal, or what their role in giving information to Pilothouse was.

What wasn’t revealed in his conversation with reporters was the fact the two men, who pleaded guilty to leaking secret government information in exchange for cash and other financial benefits, had to sign a non-disclosure agreement to get the $6-million reprieve.


According to sources, when asked anything about the deal, Mr. Virk and Mr. Basi have been ordered to follow a tight script: “I must refer all matters to the Attorney-General,” they have been told to say. It was a phrase they both would utter several times on Monday.


Special prosecutor Bill Berardino, meantime, was also quick to disassociate himself from the matter. “All of that stuff does not touch or involve my responsibility as special prosecutor whatsoever. And that’s all I’m going to say.”

Aah... to be a BC Liberal insider... 'Here's 6 million dollars, thanks for all your help'.


When are the three Pilothouse scofflaws - Erik Bornman, Brian Kieran, and Jamie Elmhirst - going to see the inside of a courthouse?

Anonymous said...

O0pz - Here's the Gary Mason article "It’s time to come clean on BC Rail plea deal" from The Globe and Mail.

RossK said...


If everything is on the up-and-up.

Why the gags?

And why did the current AG approve them?

(and are they even constitutional in a criminal case such as this?....I'd love to hear from a legal beagle on that one)

RossK said...

AG is now denying the existence of a gag....



O+ said...

Then there's the $50,000 Sooke land development bribe Basi was caught with. The Sunriver developers are expected to plead guilty October 22. http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Company+that+developed+Sunriver+Sooke+expected+plead+guilty+bribing/3708137/story.html

Kim said...

Funny originally the charges were laid directly on Mr. Young and Mr. Duncan. Last week their names were replaced by the corporation. You can't punish a corporation.