New criminal charges against David Basi and new information released Monday raise troubling new questions about British Columbia's largest and longest-running political scandal - the "raid on the legislature" case.
Perhaps the biggest question is this - what the hell is going on here?
Former provincial ministerial aides David Basi and Bob Virk and former communications aide Aneal Basi all face a variety of charges stemming back two and a half years to December 28, 2003.
On that date, Canadians were shocked by television footage of police officers carting box after box out of the legislature in a case that allegedly involved not only the $1 billion BC Rail privatization deal, but drug trafficking, influence peddling, breach of trust and fraud.
David Basi, his brother-in-law Virk and his cousin all face trial in B.C. Supreme Court starting June 5.
On Monday, a large volume of information related to several search warrants was released to the media. Included are allegations that lobbyists Erik Bornman and Brian Kieran of Pilothouse Public Affairs paid almost $30,000 to the accused in exchange for confidential government information on part of the BC Rail deal.
New key witness
On top of that, new and apparently unrelated charges were also laid against David Basi and two other men who allegedly were all involved in illegal activities to influence the removal of land from the Agricultural Land Reserve for a major Sooke-area development.
And it became clear that former Province newspaper columnist Kieran had joined Bornman in becoming key witnesses for the crown. Neither man faces any charges, despite allegations in the police information that they provided money and benefits in return for confidential government information from Basi and Virk.
As always, it should be stressed that information in the police "Information To Obtain A Search Warrant" and in the "Warrant To Search" documents released are only allegations and unproven in court. The presumption of innocence is critical to our judicial system - and to the rights of the accused.
But by now, the public should be deeply concerned about not only what may or may not have happened, but how police and the courts are handling this case.
One question that the June trial may or may not answer is about the different treatment afforded key individuals in the influence peddling case.
The three accused, all Indo-Canadians, have lost their well-paid government jobs and are surviving, according to one source, only because of support from friends and family.
Meanwhile, no charges are facing the two lobbyists involved, who allegedly paid benefits for information useful to their clients. Also not facing charges are several other individuals connected to the case, all of whom happen to be Caucasians.
Return of 'Spiderman'
In fact, Erik Bornman is now a University of B.C. law student articling in Toronto at the prestigious firm of McCarthy Tetrault, which donated $118,000 to the federal leadership campaign of former Liberal Party Prime Minister Paul Martin, who Bornman once worked for when Martin was finance minister.
Bornman, the budding lawyer, earned the nickname "Spiderman" after he once entered a locked federal Liberal Party in B.C. office through the ceiling.
And Kieran, still an active lobbyist, has announced his "inevitable retirement" after a highly lucrative career promoting the interests of major multinational forest companies and other firms to the BC Liberals and before that, the BC NDP government.
Kieran's successor at Pilothouse, now renamed K&E Public Affairs, is Jamie Elmhirst, currently president of the Liberal Party of Canada in B.C. and a longtime Gordon Campbell Liberal supporter, as well. Pilothouse's offices were also searched by police in the investigation.
Bornman and Kieran were at one time registered as lobbyists for OmniTRAX, the US-based rail company that bid for BC Rail against eventual winner CN Rail. Another bidder, CP Rail, bailed out of the bidding because it claimed there was a "clear breach" of fairness in the process, due to other bidders receiving confidential information.
As well as representing OmniTRAX, Bornman was a registered lobbyist for the Employers Forum of BC, the Council of Forest Industries, the Western Canadian Shippers Coalition, the Broe Companies, Inc. (owners of OmniTRAX), the BC Real Estate Association, Famous Players, the Certified General Accountants Association of BC and Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, according to the B.C. government's lobbyist web site. Kieran also represented most of those firms and some others.
Sooke land deal
The new charges that were laid Monday against Basi, James Seymour Duncan and Anthony Ralph Young allege that Basi accepted $50,000 for his assistance in excluding property from the Agricultural Land Reserve.
That property formed the giant Sunriver Estates, a project of 650 residential units on 382 acres being built in five phases through 2007. It is owned by Shambrook Hills Development Corp.
In an interview Monday, former Sooke councilor Tom Marino said the project was removed from the ALR before he became a council member, but that both Duncan and Young had subsequently appeared there occasionally with requests related to the development. Marino, former leader of the Democratic Reform Party of B.C., said he did not know either man personally.
The Sunriver Estates development was highly controversial in 2001-2002 when it was proposed and a local Sooke community group, WRATH - Worried Residents Against Tax Hikes in Sooke campaigned against the ALR exclusion.
The Sooke News Mirror strongly criticized the town council in a May 30, 2001 editorial for reversing Sooke policy in order to consider supporting the exclusion.
"This week, our municipal government decided to renege on a freshly-minted policy which stated that it would only consider Agriculture Land Reserve exclusions on property within the core area until the Official Community Plan review process is completed," the News Mirror wrote.
"Despite this policy, council has decided to allow Shambrook Hills Development Corp. - which has its sights set on converting the 386-acre Phillips farm property into a residential development - plead its case for ALR exclusion," the paper concluded.
The Agricultural Land Commission itself has been the subject of considerable controversy during the B.C. Liberal government's term of office, with claims of political interference dogging its decisions.
Basi lawyer denies charges
David Basi's lawyer Michael Bolton immediately dismissed the charges against his client, saying it made no sense for anyone to believe that a ministerial assistant in the finance ministry could have any influence on ALR decisions.
Bolton said Basi would plead not guilty to the new charges and predicted he would be exonerated.
Meanwhile, other evidence released by the courts details how Basi's cousin Aneal allegedly "laundered" payments from Bornman to Basi through his own bank accounts.
A police search warrant ITO alleges that Aneal Basi received cheques from Bornman and his company Pacific Public Affairs Corporation for "contract writing services" and then passed equal amounts on to David Basi.
"A review of the cheque stubs and cancelled cheques written by Bornman demonstrated a pattern of corresponding deposits or transfers into the accounts of Basi immediately or shortly after a cheque, written by Bornman and payable to Aneal Basi, was cashed in TD Canada Trust account XXXXX," the police document alleges.
Other police documents for the humorously named "Project Everywhichway" show that David Basi's home telephone, B.C. government office, cell phone and home computer account were all the subjects of electronic surveillance.
Trip with rail bidder
The documents also appear to show that by July 2004, Bornman was cooperating with the police investigation.
"As part of the investigation, Erik Bornmann in an interview provided information relating to the passage of money to David Basi through Aneal Basi," it reads. The next four pages are completely blacked out by court authorities, until the statement resumes with: "That on May 10, 2004, Erik Bornman supplied to Commercial Crime investigators cheques payable to Aneal Basi from 2002 as well as the cheques payable to Aneal Basi during 2003 that were not located and seized during the execution of warrants on December 28, 2003."
That leaves no doubt what Bornman's role will be as a key crown witness during the trial.
Another interesting aspect of the new search warrant information is that it reveals David Basi and Bob Virk and their wives Interjit and Armijit traveled to Denver, Colorado to attend a Denver Broncos football game with Gary Rennick, the former Chief Operating Officer of OmniTRAX, one of the bidders in the privatization of BC Rail.
The document alleges that David Basi told his boss, former BC Liberal Finance Minister Gary Collins, that the trip was paid for by personal funds and was not related to government business.
But in fact, the police allege that "Basi received funds totaling $3000 from Brian Kieran on or about December 9, 2002. It is believed that these funds were solicited by Basi to cover the cost of airfares for Basi, Inderjit Basi, Virk and Armijit Virk."
Who will testify?
So once again, British Columbians have more information but also more doubts about what really happened in this province's largest political scandal story.
There still remain even more unanswered questions. A host of other prominent B.C. and federal Liberals are connected to David Basi - will they be testifying at his trial?
What about the role of Bruce Clark, a federal Liberal executive member in BC, brother of former Deputy Premier Christy Clark and brother-in-law of Mark Marissen, Paul Martin's former top advisor in B.C.? Bruce Clark's home office was searched as part of the legislature raid activities and earlier police search warrant ITO documents claimed that documents pertaining to the BC Rail Roberts Bank privatization deal were passed by Basi to Clark.
Will former Finance Minister Gary Collins or former Transportation Minister Judith Reid be called to testify in the trial of their former ministerial aides?
Will executives from CN Rail, CP Rail and OmniTRAX also testify about their lobbying activities?
One thing is clear, however - the lucrative and secretive Wild West world of lobbying the B.C. government will never be the same after this trial.
Bill Tieleman writes a column on BC politics every Tuesday in 24 hours, the free weekday newspaper. Tieleman can be heard every Monday at 10 a.m. on the Bill Good Show on CKNW AM 980. Email him at [email protected].