First published January 7, 2011:
A reader pointed us to a recent BBC News report about a British politician convicted of financial fraud. Please compare this legal action to outrageous conduct witnessed in the Basi Virk trial related to BC Rail et al. Ex-Labour MP David Chaytor was jailed for 18 months for fraudulently claiming more than £20,000 in expenses. The former MP is now facing a large legal bill for both his defence and the costs of bringing the prosecution against him.
Mr Justice Saunders said that the public was entitled to expect honest treatment of public funds. He said Chaytor could not attract sympathy for having limited means, that these kind of offences are difficult to detect and amounted to a serious breach of public trust:
“MPs are trusted by Parliament to make honest claims and the rules make that abundantly clear. The foreword by the Speaker to the Green Book which sets out the Rules says that ‘Members are responsible for ensuring that their use of allowances is beyond reproach’. It is right that MPs should be trusted. They hold an important position in our constitution. These false claims were made in my judgment in breach of a high degree of trust placed in MPs to only make legitimate claims.”
The sentencing guideline in Britain for this level of crime against public trust was two years imprisonment. Chaytor was allowed a 25% reduction for pleading guilty. Had the size of the fraud been larger, the prison term would have been longer. For breach of trust involving £1 million, the guideline is ten years in jail.
Ordinarily in Canada, fraud involving breach of public trust is a very serious offense carrying lengthy terms in custody. The Basi/Virk case resulted in very mild punishment and a $6 million cash payment by the public for the benefit of the convicted men. Additionally, the BC Government released without compensation real estate held as security for defendant’s legal costs.
There is a prima facie case that BC Liberals provided Basi and Virk with a sweetheart deal in exchange for guilty pleas that allowed the trial to be ended. The prosecution had hoped to keep government documents out of the hands of defence lawyers but prosecutors lost that issue through rulings from the bench. Many documents were said to be destroyed but, through electronic recovery, these became part of the evidence. With those documents, Basi and Virk might not have proved themselves innocent of wrongdoing but the people directing their actions would have been exposed as well. That is why the Liberals wanted to stop the trial and explains why the defendants were willing to accept a conviction that involved only symbolic punishment.
The rest of this article was written in October. I think it is worth re-reading because this, the largest issue of political corruption in BC history, is still unsettled.
____________From Oct 19/10 ____________
Despite claims this week by mendacious politicians, the Basi/Virk case ended because Liberals deemed the consequences of halting the trial to be less damaging than harm from continued testimony or claimed memory losses by a parade of insiders certain to be embarrassed by indisputable documentary evidence.
For years, Basi and Virk claimed innocence, saying that they were acting on instructions of political superiors. Now those same bosses have facilitated a deal that allowed the convicts to avoid significant punishment, to have millions of dollars in legal costs paid by taxpayers, to have certain charges reduced or abandoned and to walk away without further public explanation or examination.
The Special Prosecutor admits he never saw the settlement agreement until minutes before it was announced in court. The judge claims she had no part in negotiating a plea arrangement but she took only moments to consider and approve settlement and decide penalties of a complicated prosecution that had dragged on for seven years. The Attorney General states his government agreed to pay millions in fees to the defendants’ lawyers – among the highest priced defense counsel in the province – but was not motivated by self-protection. The Government waived its right to recover legal fees from personal assets owned by Basi and Virk and avoided embarrassment of testimony that then Liberal Finance Minister Gary Collins was under RCMP surveillance when he met with BC Rail bidders.
This new policy of paying trial costs of employees, despite conviction, is contrary to usual government practice. Attorney General de Jong said public payment was dictated by the special circumstances of today’s “mega-trials.” However, in the infamous Pickton serial murder case, the BC government was less generous:
“The B.C. government registered a $10-million mortgage against the [Pickton Family] property on Feb. 28, 2003, as security for payment of legal fees for Mr. Pickton’s defence against the homicide charges.” Robert Matas, Globe and Mail.
We know the Basi/Virk defense cost more than $6 million. The prosecution, conducted by a former partner of senior Liberals, including advisor and former AG Geoff Plant and former Deputy AG and Gordon Campbell’s present Deputy Minister Allan Seckell, cost over $5 million. Add the many internal government, court and investigatory expenses and losses to the taxpayer for this travesty rise to over $20 million.
Consider that two senior government officials are convicted of accepting bribes to subvert sale of a valuable public asset. They breached, among other things, their oaths of office. They resisted prosecution for seven years, substantially compounding the taxpayer losses. Under the criminal codes, breach of trust is a very serious crime:
Every one who, being a trustee of anything for the use or benefit, whether in whole or in part, of another person, or for a public or charitable purpose, converts, with intent to defraud and in contravention of his trust, that thing or any part of it to a use that is not authorized by the trust is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.
This is the maximum penalty available in the Canadian Criminal Code, short of life imprisonment. Proposed amendments under Bill C-21 would impose a mandatory sentence of two years imprisonment for fraud over $1 million. Basi and Virk walk away with conditional house arrest for two years less a day, a term that keeps them in the provincial system, away from the federal correctional authorities. To soften that inconvenience, the Judge said they can travel to and from work, go outdoors for physical activity each day and participate in activities with their children. Since these conditions will be almost impossible to police, it is equivalent to a fully suspended sentence.
Basi, despite being convicted of a separate and additional offence of receiving a $50,000 bribe from a land development company seeking release of property from the agricultural land reserve received no additional time on his conditional sentence.
It is interesting to note that in Britain the sentencing guideline for breach of trust involving losses of more than one million pounds is 10 years or more of custody. Former newspaper baron Conrad Black, convicted in the USA of fraud involving $6.1 million received a prison term of 78 months. Clearly, the punishment of Basi and Virk is mild, outrageously mild.
BC did not always tolerate breaches of public trust. Robert Sommers, a BC cabinet minister in the W.A.C. Bennett government, convicted in 1958 of receiving fraudulent benefits totaling about $7,000 was sentenced to five years in jail. What a difference.
People who formerly had faith in Canada’s police and judicial system and British Columbian taxpayers are the losers in this whole affair. Dishonest political operatives made off with valuable public assets. The perpetrators and those that facilitated the coverup were enriched. For example, the trial judge earned a promotion and the trusted Special Prosecutor billed millions. Despite having little experience or qualification for criminal prosecution, he had close business connections to senior Liberals. The defense teams were not limited to typical Legal Aid rates and restrictions; they made their own lucrative deals for public funding. The Premier that orchestrated the corrupt sale of the BCR decides that no public inquiry will be allowed to inquire into his government’s misconduct.
By the time a new Government is in position to appoint an inquiry commission, remaining evidence will no longer exist. You can bet that shredders and degaussers worked overtime, at our expense. Thieves and fraud artists have been directing the BC Government for ten years and the master criminals remain in charge.