Former B.C. premier Glen Clark has been acquitted in a casino licensing scandal that forced him from office three years ago.
"Today is a day for me and my family to celebrate, and to be free of this anvil that's been sort of carrying me down," a smiling Clark told reporters outside the courthouse Thursday, after being found not guilty of breach of trust and accepting a benefit of more than $10,000 from a friend.
He was accused of receiving free home and cottage renovations from a neighbour, Dimitrios Pilarinos, who had applied for a casino licence from the province. The Crown alleged that this undermined the integrity of the premier's office.
"There is no question Mr. Clark exercised poor judgment in hiring Mr. Pilarinos to do renovations for him when Mr. Pilarinos had an application for a casino licence before the government," B.C. Supreme Court Justice Justice Elizabeth Bennett ruled.
"However, there is nothing in his conduct that crosses the line from an act of folly to behaviour calling for criminal sanctions," she added when reading out her lengthy judgment.
The verdict came after a 136-day trial that wrapped up in June. She has spent the past few months reviewing testimony and writing her decision.
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Although he adamantly denied breaking the law, Clark resigned as premier in the summer of 1999 when the RCMP confirmed he was under investigation.
Charges were laid just over a year later. He insisted that they were based on politics rather than any evidence of wrongdoing.
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After Thursday's verdict was read, Clark reiterated his view that the charges should never have been laid.
The former premier agreed with the judge that he "should have been more careful" about hiring a friend to conduct renovations someone he said later betrayed him.
Bennett ruled that there was virtually no evidence that Pilarinos actually swayed anyone in the government to approve the casino. The temporary licence was later cancelled.
But "there is a plethora of evidence that he pretended to have influence to affect a casino decision" because of his ties with Clark, the judge said. She convicted Pilarinos of six of nine charges against him.
Clark said the case prematurely ended his political career, "pretty tough" punishment considering he was later acquitted of all charges.
"I try not to be bitter about it. I'm not a bitter person," Clark said. "I don't like to look back. I like to look forward." He wouldn't rule out a return to politics, although he said his wife might not be thrilled by the idea.
The province is expected to pay his legal bills, estimated at more than $1 million, because of Thursday's acquittal. Clark is now working as a manager at a Vancouver neon sign company.