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Basi-Virk trial now expected to last until March 2011

The Basi-Virk political corruption trial will proceed - but the case will take until March of 2011 to be completed - nine months longer than originally scheduled.

The trial of three former B.C. government aides facing charges connected to the $1 billion sale of B.C. Rail in 2003 has been delayed repeatedly since it began May 17 by legal arguments that cannot be disclosed because of a publication ban.

And today in BC Supreme Court the trial was almost forced to start over with a new jury after Justice Anne MacKenzie told existing jurors that instead of the case ending by July 1 as planned, it will instead likely run through March of the next year.

MacKenzie implored the 12 jurors to continue on despite the lengthy delay.

"In my address I said counsel suggested the trial would last until late June," MacKenzie told them. "But now the surprise."

"I’m asking you – and you can discuss this – but assuming you have two weeks off at Christmas and most of the summer off after July 7 – can you accommodate us until the end of March?" MacKenzie told the jury.

"That’s the surprise because that’s the scheduling now," she said, adding that jurors would also be able to get some days off for personal business such as doctor’s appointments.

MacKenzie advised the jury that such delays have previously happened in major B.C. Supreme Court trials.

When the jurors returned from discussing the delay in private MacKenzie announced that 10 of the 12 had committed to continue and two more would consider the situation and report back to her about their availability shortly.

Outside court defence lawyer Michael Bolton, representing David Basi, told reporters that: "The trial can continue with 10 jurors but it cannot continue with fewer than 10 jurors."

NDP MLA Leonard Krog said outside court that the trial: "Is not a horse race, obviously."

"Clearly this case was going to take a long time," Krog said dismissing some estimates it might last only six weeks. "Ultimately this case is about what happened in the sale of B.C. Rail."

To date the case has only heard testimony from one of more than 30 expected witnesses, Martyn Brown, Premier Gordon Campbell's chief of staff.

Brown is expected to return for further cross-examination by the defence when the jury returns to court on Wednesday June 9.

David Basi - former Ministerial Assistant to then-Finance Minister Gary Collins and Bob Virk - former Ministerial Assistant to then-Transportation Minister Judith Reid - both face breach of trust and fraud charges.

They are alleged to have passed confidential government information about the B.C. Rail bidding process on to lobbyists for one of the bidders in exchange for money and other benefits.

Aneal Basi, a former government communications officer, faces money laundering charges connected to the alleged payments.

A publication ban prevents reporting any court room proceedings taking place in the absence of the jury or any past pre-trial decisions or arguments.

Bill Tieleman writes about the Basi-Virk trial for The Tyee and 24 Hours Vancouver. This article first appeared on his blog.

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