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Premier Alleged to Know of Paid Media Scam

Phony hecklers, fake protesters paid by BC Libs, says Virk defence.

By Bill Tieleman 24 Apr 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours, the free weekday newspaper, also online at http://vancouver.24hrs.ca. Tieleman can be heard every Monday at 10 a.m. on the Bill Good Show on CKNW AM 980 or at http://www.cknw.com. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog at: http://billtieleman.blogspot.com.

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Premier Gordon Campbell

Staff members in the office of Premier Gordon Campbell and the B.C. Liberal Party were directly involved in paid media manipulation, the defence in the B.C. legislature raid case alleged in B.C. Supreme Court on Monday.

And a defence lawyer claimed Campbell was aware that the B.C. Liberal Party was paying government staff on the side to organize stacked phone calls to talk radio shows.

The controversial allegations came fast and furious, and seemed to be aimed at building a case that the defendants were operatives constantly carrying out orders from top politicians in the B.C. Liberal Party, and therefore unlikely to act on their own in breaking the law in government dealings.

Kevin McCullough, lawyer for Bob Virk, the former provincial ministerial aide charged with breach of trust and fraud related to the $1 billion B.C. Rail privatization, outlined a litany of activities he alleged involved top government and party officials.

Among the new allegations McCullough made:

As in previous reports, it is very important to realize these are only allegations by the defence. They have not been proven in court nor has the Crown replied to the allegations.

Wiretaps cited as sources

On Monday, Mike Morton declined to comment when contacted by my 24 Hours colleague Sean Holman in Victoria, while B.C. Liberal House Leader Mike de Jong refused to discuss the case, saying: "I'm not going to talk about what's going on in court today."

For his part, Premier Campbell said previously that he would not respond to what comes up in court.

But the allegations raised by McCullough were detailed and with each one he cited sources -- such as dates and times when RCMP wiretaps allegedly caught Basi and Reichert discussing dirty tricks; e-mails; RCMP "continuation reports"; and other evidence disclosed to the defence in preparation for the trial.

Ironically, this section of the court hearing in front of Justice Elizabeth Bennett is a defence disclosure application, where lawyers for Basi, Virk and former government communications aide Aneal Basi are arguing to get access to even more information they say has not been provided to them.

In addition to the allegations about the inner workings of media manipulation of talk shows and other political activities, the defence also provided many tantalizing comments that, while not spelled out, suggested interesting other angles on the whole case.

Stacking radio phone calls

Also included in McCullough's allegations Monday were statements:

And so it went in court, allegation after allegation raised by the defence.

'Gord was yelling at Reichert'

It was at times as if the roof had been lifted off the giant ant farm that is the BC legislature, letting all in the courtroom have a sneak peak at what just might have been going on there in 2003.

But there were more details than ever before as well.

In the highly controversial allegation related to the $1 billion privatization of B.C. Rail, McCullough said B.C. Liberal Party Executive Director Kelly Reichert was taped by police in a call to Basi on Oct. 28, 2003, discussing a situation where Premier Campbell's Press Secretary Mike Morton sat with OmniTRAX, one of the companies bidding for the rail company, along with their lobbyists from Pilothouse Public Affairs, at a Liberal fundraising dinner.

"Reichert says he gave Gord a three-page memo on Saturday. Gord was yelling at Reichert because Mike Morton had fucked up. There was a dinner where Mike Morton is positioned with OmniTRAX -- he's at the Pilothouse table," McCullough said.

Of course we now know that two of Pilothouse's partners, Erik Bornmann and Brian Kieran, are key witnesses for the Crown against Basi and Virk, while the third, former Liberal Party of Canada B.C. president Jamie Elmhirst, has been subpoenaed to testify in the trial.

Talk show fakery?

Then there were the multiple allegations of manipulating talk radio shows in Vancouver, Victoria and Prince George. Last week McCullough disclosed that Basi was paid $20,000 for two separate "media monitoring" contracts that he said were ""a highly political effort to sway public opinion through the use of radio shows and other events."

On Monday, McCullough went into considerable detail, saying he was quoting from an e-mail he alleged came from Premier Campbell's press secretary Mike Morton to David Basi.

"The first of these emails is from Mike Morton in the Premier's office. It's dated March 11, 2002," McCullough said.

"'Thanks Dave -- I'll let the premier know your team is in place, whereas MM's is not. The premier will be on John McComb's show -- there will be a call-in,'" McCullough read in court.

McComb is a radio talk show host at CKNW AM 980. It is not clear if the "MM" is Mike McDonald, the former B.C. Liberal caucus communications director in Victoria, but McDonald was referred to repeatedly by McCullough.

In one somewhat humorous exchange in court, McCullough read from the transcript of a call between Basi and McDonald.

"'Dave's asking Mike if he wants to make some calls to CKNW after the MLA is on,'" McCullough alleged.

Justice Elizabeth Bennett interjected: "Is this a Liberal MLA?"

McCullough: "Yes."

Bennett responded: "I should have known that."

McCullough also quoted a Nov. 23, 2003, document alleging calls being set up to apparently ambush NDP Leader Carole James.

"It's a call in response to Carole James -- she's going to be on the Bill Good Show tomorrow -- Mike asks him to 'get the posse together,'" McCullough said.

"They're not just lobbing softball questions to the premier -- they're setting the stage for calls to the leader of the Opposition," McCullough alleged.

In another intercepted call on Oct. 16, 2003, Reichert tells Basi that: "Three MLAs got killed on the Joe Easingwood Show -- just slaughtered." Easingwood is the host of a morning talk radio show on Victoria's CFAX station.

Concern about BC Rail deal

In other intercepted calls -- and McCullough said there were 43 of them between October and December 2003 alone -- there was significant discussion of the B.C. Rail deal.

McCullough referred to a call of Oct. 20, 2003, little more than a month before the B.C. Rail sale to CN Rail was announced.

"In that call, what are Mr. Basi and Mr. Reichert discussing? B.C. Rail polls -- and they both ask each other not to talk to anyone," McCullough alleged.

Then in a Nov. 17, 2003, call, McCullough claims: "Reichert was concerned about validators on B.C. Rail." The B.C. Rail deal was announced days later.

In response to a question from Justice Bennett, McCullough explained that validators are "the government's attempt to get shippers and communities on side" of the B.C. Rail privatization deal.

'Worry about FOI?'

In yet another wiretapped call, Basi shows his contempt for freedom of information laws, according to McCullough.

"Basi: send the e-mail to my work e-mail address."

"Reichert: Can I? I don't have to worry about FOI?"

"Basi: FOI is for those puritanical [inaudible]." McCullough claimed Basi said he deleted such e-mails.

Then back to media manipulation of radio shows.

McCullough quoted Reichert on Dec. 3, 2003: "Gary Collins was live with Bill Good today. Dave said all the calls were positive and, of course, prompted."

In another alleged reference to Press Secretary Mike Morton's role in media manipulation, McCullough said an RCMP-intercepted voice mail message Dec. 4, 2003, for Basi from Reichert said: "Morty wanted me to phone just to let you know the premier is on Terry Moore next Monday." McCullough said "Morty" was believed to be Morton. Terry Moore is a CFAX Victoria radio station host.

There was also extensive discussion by McCullough about the fact that B.C. Liberal Party Executive Director Kelly Reichert is the brother-in-law of RCMP Inspector Kevin DeBruyckere, one of the lead investigators. McCullough again alleged that DeBruyckere did not disclose that relationship until March of 2004, and that he was interested in references to Reichert caught on wiretaps.

"The defence says it's quite remarkable that Inspector DeBruyckere makes no reference to his relationship to the Liberal party through Mr. Reichert but makes inquiries to the monitoring room about Mr. Reichert," McCullough said. He said DeBruyckere mentions his relationship to Reichert in March 2004 but said there was no information about that disclosure.

By the end of the day McCullough had made clear his purpose with the massive disclosure of the inner workings of the B.C. Liberal government and party.

David Basi and Bob Virk were following government and party orders throughout this period, McCullough said, in a wide variety of highly political operations.

To argue, therefore, as the Crown is, that Basi and Virk were acting on their own in the breach of trust situation simply does not make sense, McCullough inferred.

"This government was using Mr. Basi every which way and the RCMP knew it and they undertook no investigation," McCullough argued, cleverly using the actual title the RCMP gave to their case -- Operation Everywhichway. "There was an intention to put this investigation on the backs of Mr. Basi and Mr. Virk, and take it away from elected officials."

The case continues and so, likely, does the series of fascinating allegations.

Related Tyee stories:

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