Surprise guilty pleas in B.C. legislature trial
Published Monday, October 18, 2010 10:24PM PDT
Nearly seven years after a shocking raid on the British Columbia legislature by Mounties investigating the $1-billion sale of BC Rail, another bombshell in the case dropped Monday when two former government aides accused of political corruption entered surprise guilty pleas.
Those pleas brought an end to the legal odyssey of Dave Basi and Bobby Virk and sparked immediate calls for a public inquiry in a case that the province's attorney general said cost B.C. taxpayers millions of dollars.
Basi and Virk pleaded guilty to two counts each of breach of trust and accepting rewards or benefits and were sentenced to two years less a day of house arrest.
The two men admitted to breaking their oath of office by revealing secrets, and disclosing confidential cabinet documents and information that were supposed to be solicitor-client privileged.
In exchange for the information, Basi admitted he took $25,695 in cash and both men admitted to receiving a trip to Colorado, where they went with their wives to a National Football League game.
"Basi and Virk did not obtain the consent of their superiors to demand or accept these personal benefits," said an agreed statement of facts that was read to the court.
Aneal Basi, Dave Basi's cousin, was accused of money laundering but charges against him were dropped when Crown and defence lawyers agreed he had "no knowledge" of the offences Dave Basi was committing.
Lawyers from both sides also agreed BC Rail and the committee evaluating the sale knew nothing of the scheme.
Dave Basi also pleaded guilty to a charge of offering a benefit, by telling officials at a development company he would help them have property removed from the agricultural land reserve.
Dave Basi admitted to accepting $50,000 from the development company. But prosecutor Bill Berardino told the judge Dave Basi's actions on the land reserve didn't influence the decisions of government.
In addition to the house arrest, Basi agreed to pay a fine of more than $75,000, which covers the money he took.
Though Dave Basi and Virk leaked information about the sale of BC Rail to OmniTrax, CN Rail was the winning bidder.
CN Rail purchased BC Rail in the fall of 2003 and just after Christmas the same year Mounties raided the legislature and carted away stacks of boxes loaded with evidence.
After the raid, RCMP said the tentacles of organized crime had reached the highest levels of the provincial government. Drug charges were laid against Dave Basi, but later dropped after police said a home he rented out had a marijuana grow operation inside.
Corruption charges were laid one year after the raid, but legal delays kept the case from being heard until this past May.
The trial was originally scheduled to last just a few weeks but quickly ballooned to estimates of eight months.
The case hadn't been heard for the last three weeks while the Crown worked to reduce its witness list.
Outside court, after he was sentenced, Dave Basi told reporters the slow pace of the case was a factor in his plea.
"My family does not deserve to go through this, whenever this is going to end," he said.
"I'm going to go home now. I'm going to hug my family, I'm going to hug my mom, I'm going to hug my wife. I'm going to thank them, I'm going to thank my uncle for standing by me for seven years and this is the first day of the rest of my life."
Virk said he was just as eager to see the case come to a close.
"I'm going to go home today, I'm going to play with my kids," he told reporters. "It's over, I'm moving on, and that's all I have to say."
Berardino told the court each of the men has a young family, no criminal record and has experienced a serious fall from grace.
Justice Anne MacKenzie accepted the joint sentencing submission from Berardino and defence lawyers of two years of house arrest.
She also ordered both Dave Basi and Virk to complete 150 hours of community service.
They must avoid drugs and alcohol and can leave home to go to work, the doctor, the grocery store, and to exercise.
Defence lawyers alleged during the trial that the provincial government had rigged the bidding to ensure CN Rail was the winner.
Both witnesses who testified in the case before the plea agreements were reached denied that claim.
The next witness to take the stand was expected to be former B.C. finance minister Gary Collins.
Dave Basi worked for Collins, while Virk worked for then-transportation minister Judith Reid.
Aneal Basi was a lower-level communications officer and wasn't politically appointed like the other two accused.
The B.C. Liberals, headed by Premier Gordon Campbell, had promised not to sell the railway during the election campaign in 2001.
But in February 2003, the Campbell government announced a plan to sell the Crown-owned railway.
Opposition leader Carole James called on the provincial government to hold a public inquiry on the BC Rail sale now that the trial has been cut short.
"More than seven years ago the RCMP raided the legislature, setting off the biggest political scandal in B.C. history. But as the B.C. Rail corruption trial comes to a close, the public is still in the dark about what really happened," James said.
"The only way we're going to get the full story is by way of a public inquiry."
Mike de Jong, B.C.'s attorney general, ruled out an inquiry in a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon.
He said the cost of such high-profile trials is staggering for both Crown and defence lawyers, and admitted that he approved costs for defence lawyers that "run into the millions of dollars."
De Jong said B.C.'s Legal Services Society told him there was nothing left to collect from Dave Basi and Virk, and he endorsed the recommendation not to collect legal costs from the men last week.
The agreed statement of facts shows the plea deal was also agreed to last week.
When asked if the defendants were aware they wouldn't have to pay millions in legal fees before making the plea deal, de Jong said: "I wasn't party to discussion with the counsel."