Alex Tsakumis is a journalist in the style of journalism in days of yore, when political reporters were expected to hold the “Establishment’s” and especially government’s feet to the fire. The days when there was incisive reporting with columnists staying with the story until the end are, alas, of a bygone era. Journalists were like pit bulls that you could not easily dislodge from the seat of your pants. Where are the fearless fighters for the truth that seemed to vanish after the NDP were defeated in 2001?
Because those days are gone, the Campbell government and others’ fear of exposure of wrongdoing were minimized, if not eliminated – were it not for the Basi-Virk trial. Now it’s gone.
Alex has come into possession of four memos-to-file by David Basi which were certified by lawyer George Jones, QC. That doesn’t mean the contents were true, of course, but it does raise serious questions about the role played by a number of people both inside and outside of the BC Cabinet. It has not been denied that Crown Counsel had possession of those documents.
I urge everyone to go to Alex’s website and read the memos from David Basi to the file. If they are true, serious misconduct by the government occurred during the sale period.
I must say from the outset that I’m not accusing specific people of any wrongdoing. What I am going to do is deal with the settlement of the Basi-Virk case and ask some pointed questions. Absent a court case, it is you, the jury of citizens who must decide.
The issues started shortly after the 2001 election in which Premier Campbell pledged he would not privatize BC Rail. With the election behind him, Campbell asked for bidders and three came forward.
Let’s try to look at this 7 year case in a nutshell.
Nearly a year after police raided the offices of Gary Collins, then Finance Minister, Mr. Basi and Mr. Virk were charged with multiple counts of fraud and breach of trust. The two men were said to have, amongst other things, accepted benefits from one of the bidders for the Roberts Bank spur line in return for handing over confidential documents. The defendants maintained that they had instructions from Cabinet ministers to keep the bidding going because while CN was the favoured bidder and Campbell wanted the bidding to look good because CN was run by one David McLean, long a Liberal bagman and bosom buddy of his. Indeed that’s the essence of Basi’s memos.
The list of witnesses in the trial for the Crown included two Cabinet Minsters with several powerful public servants. To add to this murky pond was a $300,000 payment by BC Rail to Liberal eminence grise, Patrick Kinsella, for “consulting fees during the bidding process.” Not surprisingly, this prompted the other bidders to holler foul, claiming that the government favoured CN all along and that the others were just window dressing to make the bidding look real and mask the truth that CN had a slam dunk.
Let’s look at two things – why Crown Counsel stopped the case just as important witnesses were to be heard, and what the crash of the case meant.
The short answer is that the accused men wanted to “cop a plea” and plead guilty to a couple of charges, getting away without going to jail and having their $6 million legal bill paid by the government.
This raises, to me at any rate, the obvious question: why did Special Counsel Bill Berardino, QC, accept?
Berardino knew he had a strong case, obviously fortified by the fact that defence counsel were admitting, off the record, that their clients were guilty, and the strongest part of his case was yet to come.
Asked if there was any government pressure to end the trial, which had so far contained embarrassing allegations for the B.C. Liberal Party, Berardino said: “This is my decision. I made it on my own by myself.”
I’m sorry, I don’t believe that and subsequent statements bear out my skepticism. When I and others expressed our incredulity at Berardino’s statement, it was then admitted that, of course, the Assistant Deputy Attorney General, knew about it but he was by statute removed from the politics and that we should recognize that “cast in stone” independence the Crown Counsel Act vested in him.
It’s impossible for me to accept that the Premier didn’t instruct Crown Counsel to seek terms and, after the terms were given, order their acceptance. I don’t say that Crown Counsel was untruthful, just that I don’t believe his story.
I’ve been in government, folks, and I know governments don’t pay out $6 million, plus another $12 million in legal expenses without knowing why.
Indeed, a bit of further prodding and the Deputy Attorney-General was admitted to be part of the deal, and shortly after that we learned that the Deputy Minister of Finance was also involved. Now, instead of Crown Counsel being the only one involved, the proposed settlement meant that payment would have to be authorized by Treasury Board, meaning that if Campbell didn’t know all about it before, he sure as hell did now. To me, all suspicions were confirmed – the key point being not what Mr. Berardino said or did, but the irresistible inference that Gordon Campbell and his flunkies not only knew about the deal but gave the instructions to settle.
Let’s look at it from another angle – why would Campbell want this trial to end ingloriously when victory was as assured as such can ever be? He knew it would look like hell to the public. Obviously this means he knew it would be even worse if he and others were forced to testify. The only possible reason Campbell could have for stopping this 7 year legal odyssey was to avoid the damage surely to come if he and former Finance Minister Gary Collins had to testify and if Basi and Virk had a chance to give their version of events.
Here’s where Alex Tsakumis’ dogged determination to discover the truth comes in. He learned that Dave Basi wrote at least four memos-to-file certified by a prominent lawyer and got possession of them. If you read them – and they are available on Alex’s website – it’s all there. The bribery, the deals, the lies, and the sleaze. Could one not infer from Campbell wanting the case to end that Basi’s memos are truthful? Doesn’t this make it pretty clear that Campbell knew what was in those memos?
If that’s the case, Campbell knew that further testimony could place him, former ministers Gary Collins, Judith Read, and even the untouchable Patrick Kinsella in serious legal jeopardy?
In the famous words of Emile Zola in the Alfred Dreyfus case, “J’accuse” the government of BC, and Premier Campbell of perverting the course of justice, then stonewalling an Independent Commission to look into this entire sordid mess. Assuming he and his colleagues’ hands are clean, wouldn’t they want to demonstration before an independent commissioner?
Surely, if they are innocent they would be begging to have a hearing.
But they aren’t. The former deputy premier during the sale of BC Rail, Christy Clark has made it clear she wants no scrutiny into her acts at the time.
If the Campbell government does not instruct a Judicial Inquiry, one can only conclude that Basi is telling the truth.
That being so, other heads should roll – but of course they won’t.