The B.C. government will not hold a public inquiry into the sale of BC Rail but it will pick up the tab for $6 million in legal fees for the two men convicted in the case, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell has confirmed.
On Monday, former Liberal government aides Dave Basi and Bob Virk pleaded guilty to two charges each of breach of trust and accepting benefits in connection with the sale of the Crown corporation in 2003.
The surprise guilty pleas brought an end to the lengthy trial, and the two former ministerial aides were sentenced to spend the next 24 months under house arrest.
With the the trial over following a seven-year investigation, the NDP Opposition immediately called for a public inquiry into the sale of BC Rail,
But on Tuesday the premier dismissed calls for an inquiry and said the public has already spent millions of dollars on the case.
"I think the questions always are around what those two individuals did and whether or not they acted criminally. We know today that they did act criminally," he said.
Campbell called Basi and Virk criminals who are to blame for the costly trial.
"They've spent the last seven years claiming to be innocent when they knew they were guilty, costing taxpayers literally millions of dollars, when they they knew they were guilty," said Campbell.
NDP wants answers
But B.C. NDP Leader Carole James said now that the legal battle is over, it's time to answer the political questions.
"The public hasn't had answers," she said. "This was their railway, their asset. It belonged to them, not the B.C. Liberals, and I think now that the court case is done the government has to come forward and answer the questions that the public has.
"Why did the government sell their railway? What happened in the bidding process? Who was involved in government?"
Leonard Krog, the NDP's attorney general critic, said he was not surprised the Liberal government rejected holding a public inquiry but added that after seven years, the public still deserves answers.
"The last thing this government wants is for the public to find out what happened around the sale of BC Rail because everyone knows it smelled.… It has stunk from the beginning.
"I think we would learn how many Liberal friends and insiders were involved in this whole deal."
Taxpayers pick up legal bills
Attorney General Mike de Jong said his main concern is how long the trial took and how much it cost taxpayers.
"I think most British Columbians think seven years is far too long to have justice dispensed and as I say, the cost of cases like this is not sustainable," de Jong said.
De Jong said the B.C. government's legal services branch recommended the province not try to recover the millions of dollars spent by lawyers defending the accused because the two former aides simply have no money of their own.
"The advice that I have received from the legal services branch is that there's nothing left to collect.… They have come to the conclusion that any attempt to recoup something further from them will not be successful."
The minister said it's "not a stretch" to conclude Basi and Virk knew their costs would be covered before they changed their pleas to guilty.
But the NDP's Krog wants to know if that "advice" was part of the plea agreement.
"That would have involved the attorney general and his ministry and I would like to hear Mr. DeJong further on that point," Krog said.
Legislature raid led to charges
The charges against Basi and Virk were filed in 2004 after an unprecedented search warrant served at the provincial legislature in December 2003 that saw police carting away dozens of boxes of evidence.
The trial began in May 2010 after years of procedural delays. Basi and Virk were accused of fraud and breach of trust for allegedly accepting bribes in exchange for inside government information about the $1-billion sale of BC Rail.
The Crown argued they leaked confidential government information to a lobbyist who worked for Denver-based OmniTrax, one of three companies vying for BC Rail, which was eventually sold to CN Rail in November 2003