After becoming an MLA in 2001, former Chilliwack mayor John Les continued to sell strata lots that media reports have speculated are at the centre of a police investigation.
Les and his brothers Corney and Larry have been involved in many real estate deals, but one that stands out involves property at 10542 Bell Road in Chilliwack, CTV reported.
When Les was mayor in 1997, Chilliwack city council rejected a bid by then owner James Acker to amend the zoning for the property. But three years later, after leaving the mayor's office, acting through a numbered company, Les succeeded in getting a rezoning on the property and took ownership of it from Acker.
The land, which had been in the Agricultural Land Reserve, was subdivided into 11 lots. Les owned them through a numbered company, 601721 B.C. Ltd. He owned 100 per cent of the company. The first two lots sold for an average of $85,000 each, CTV reported. The total value of the 11 lots would therefore be in the order of $935,000.
Voters in Chilliwack elected Les as MLA for Chilliwack-Sumas in 2001. Les's first public disclosure statement, filed under the Members' Conflict of Interest Act on Oct. 31, 2001, said his numbered company still owned six strata lots on Bell Road. The Royal Bank of Canada held mortgages on them.
Over the next two years he sold at least five of the Bell Road lots. On Nov. 20 and 28 that year he sold three of the lots, then on Dec. 14 he sold a fourth. On April 18, 2003 he sold the fifth lot.
The statements do not say when the sixth lot was sold, though by 2003 the numbered company held nothing but "bank and other deposits."
Les's most recent disclosure statement, filed on Nov. 23, 2007, said he and his spouse own residential properties in Chilliwack and Victoria, as well as four strata lots at 46735 Yale Road in Chilliwack.
Les became solicitor general, responsible for policing in British Columbia, after his re-election in 2005. He stepped down from the cabinet position on March 28 after a CBC inquiry revealed the RCMP are investigating whether he "improperly benefited" from dealings with land developers while he was mayor between 1987 and 1999. The investigation has been underway since June.
Les remains an MLA while the investigation proceeds, and John van Dongen is now the interim minister of public safety and solicitor general.
"It was a total surprise to me," said Les in a scrum with reporters in a legislature hallway Monday. "It never occurred to me I would be the subject of this kind of investigation." He said the weekend had been "surreal" and he had no idea what the investigation is about.
Asked if he ever benefitted from land being removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve, Les said no.
When a reporter asked if anyone in his family had benefitted from removing land from the ALR, he said, "You know what, we're probably getting into areas that are being investigated and I think the best thing for me is to allow the police and the special prosecutor to thoroughly research all of that."
Related Tyee stories:
- Farmland's Fate in Local Hands
Those who rule on removing farmland unduly susceptible to community pressure.
- How to Safeguard BC's Farmland
Fixing the Agricultural Land Reserve will take vision and spine.
- Is BC Down on the Farm?
In the East Kootenays, critics see more proof the Agricultural Land Reserve isn't working.
Read more: Rights + Justice