Two Saskatchewan political parties say an iTeam story about a sequence of curious land transactions on the west side of Regina raises serious concerns that require further investigation.
In a single year, two private companies made millions from sales of 204 acres of land adjacent to the government-owned Global Transportation Hub.
That land wound up in taxpayers hands, at two to three times more than government-commissioned appraisals said it was worth.
Rick Swenson, the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan, said the rapid escalation in price, and the involvement of the government "makes me as a taxpayer think that there has to be a thorough investigation."
In a news release, the NDP calls this a "highly concerning land deal."
"The independent Provincial Auditor should be brought in for a full investigation and audit of the sale process," said NDP Deputy Leader Trent Wotherspoon.
The news release went on to say "while it's possible this deal represents a series of timing coincidences and significant Sask. Party incompetence, the RCMP should rule out any criminal wrongdoing including breach of trust by Bill Boyd, the minister responsible, or any of his cabinet colleagues."
Ruth Eisworth, who used to own some of the land caught up in the strange sequence of events, says from her perspective "the whole thing stinks."
"Does it involve friends of someone? Does it involve conflict of interest somewhere? Is it insider information?" Eisworth asked. "I'd like the truth to come out."
Series of puzzling transactions
The 204 acres sits in the path of the planned West Regina Bypass and right next door to the Global Transportation Hub (GTH), a government owned industrial park.
The minister responsible for the GTH and the chair of the board, Bill Boyd, said the land is essential to the future of the Hub because it will be the site of an interchange allowing trucks into the hub without traffic lights.
The iTeam discovered that in 2013 a company owned by Alberta businessman Robert Tappauf bought and sold that land in a single day, making a $6 million profit.
Tappauf sold the land to a company co-owned by Regina businessman Anthony Marquart, which went on to make $5 million one year later when it sold that land to the GTH.
Boyd said he asked the GTH to purchase the land for the interchange, arguing "when there's a critical part of the infrastructure that has to be put in place... you need to move. And so we made that decision. Let's move and acquire this."
The GTH paid $103,000 an acre, though the Ministry of Highways had an appraisal saying the land was worth between $30,000 and $35,000 an acre and the GTH had its own appraisal saying the land was worth between $51,000 and $65,000 an acre. Boyd justified the higher price by pointing out that the seller had his own appraisal which showed the land was worth much more.
One month after the GTH bought the land it sold some of it to the Ministry of Highways for half the price it just paid; $50,000 an acre. That's the land the ministry plans to use for the interchange.
The whole series of transactions sends up a "red flag" for Regina lawyer Adam Ailsby, who specializes in expropriation.
"It doesn't make sense [for the GTH] to sell the property at a loss when the Ministry of Highways had the power to expropriate at what they felt was a reasonable price," he said.
Ailsby pointed out that along the bypass route the government has expropriated land for far less than $103,000 an acre from his clients and he wonders why the government didn't expropriate in this case.
It doesn't make sense [for the GTH] to sell the property at a loss when the Ministry of Highways had the power to expropriate at what they felt was a reasonable price - Adam Ailsby - Regina lawyer
"I'm looking at this sale saying to myself, 'There must be more here to it than what I know.' Because given the land values and the details it doesn't make sense to me," Ailsby said.
Swenson said that's how he feels too.
He said the whole thing makes him wonder if there were other motives for the government paying such a high price for this land. "Are there any relationships with these individuals to members of Mr. Wall's cabinet?"
CBC's iTeam attempted to get answers.
Tappauf's family rented land to Minister Boyd
From 2009 to 2014 the family of Robert Tappauf rented 2240 acres of farmland to Boyd, according to a government spokesperson. Tappauf says his family owns 80,000 acres of farmland in Saskatchewan and 30,000 in Alberta.
Boyd farms 32,000 acres in West Central Saskatchewan and a spokesperson says he rents from 30 different companies and individuals.
A company owned by the Tappauf family, Tappauf Joint Ventures, donated directly to Boyd's election campaign in 2011. According to Elections Saskatchewan records, Boyd was the only provincial politician to receive a direct donation from the company in that election.
Between 2011 and 2014 the company also made three donations of between $500 and $1000 to the Saskatchewan Party.
When CBC's iTeam asked Tappauf if he knew Boyd he said "I know of him. He's a councilor I believe in one of our ridings."
"Personally, I've never ever met Bill Boyd to tell you the truth," Tappauf added.
Though Boyd was willing to discuss many issues related to the land purchased by the GTH, he has declined to talk about his connection to Tappauf.
"This is categorically untrue and such an assertion would be defamatory if published or broadcast."
The official added "Minister Boyd has no knowledge of this transaction (between Tappauf and Marquart's companies) and was not aware that Robert Tappauf ever had any involvement with this parcel of land prior to your email yesterday."
After this story was published, Boyd issued the following statement.
"I have never met Robert Tappauf. At no time did I ever speak to Robert Tappauf about anything regarding the Global Transportation Hub or any land pertaining to that project."
Boyd asks Conflict of Interest Commissioner to review
A Jan.12 letter provided to CBC by a government communications official reveals that Boyd approached the Conflict of Interest Commissioner after CBC started asking questions about the landlord/renter relationship between Boyd and the Tappauf family.
The letter, addressed to Boyd from commissioner Ronald Barclay, noted that Boyd was asking for "an opinion in respect to CBC inquiries about land your company, Boyd Seed Farm Ltd. leased from Robert Tappauf."
"You told me you were concerned the CBC would wrongly assert, imply or insinuate that you used your influence to assist Mr. Tappauf," wrote Barclay.
Barclay notes that Boyd provided him "the Tappauf lease and all other land leases entered into by your corporation or your son, Regan."
The commissioner pointed out that Boyd handed over those documents even though "you are not obliged to list your land leases on the annual confidential disclosure statement as the leases are with a corporation" and Boyd has disclosed his interest in the corporation as required.
As part of his research, Barclay noted that he also spoke with Tappauf.
He found that "none of the owners/lessors have any interest in or business with the Saskatchewan Government. Furthermore, the considerations for all the leases are at fair market value."
And so he concluded, "I can state unequivocally that you are not in breach of The Members Conflict of Interest Act."
Marquart and his companies donate to Saskatchewan Party
Elections Saskatchewan's records show that Marquart and his companies have been supporters of the Saskatchewan Party for years.
In the 2011 election campaign they donated at least $11,000 to the Saskatchewan Party and two of its candidates.
Kevin Doherty, now Saskatchewan's Finance Minister, received $3,724 and Marquart gave a $1,000 donation to Christine Tell's campaign.
Overall, Marquart and his various companies have donated more than $20,000 to the Saskatchewan Party from 2009 to 2014.
For context, a communications official pointed out that there are "17,000 individuals and businesses who donate to the Saskatchewan Party each year."
Boyd explained that before discussion about the 204 acres of land he wasn't acquainted with Marquart.
"Prior to any discussions on this particular parcel of land I didn't know who he was," Boyd explained. "I'd never met the man. I'd never had the occasion to have a discussion with him of any type."
When asked about his connection to Boyd, Marquart told the iTeam "I had no discussions with Bill Boyd regarding the sale of these lands" and he said "I don't have any personal connections with Bill Boyd."
I don't have any personal connections with Bill Boyd. - Anthony Marquart
During the interview Marquart also said, "I talk to Minister Boyd over the course of a year" and he pointed out that "I talk to politicians from all parties, some parties over the course of a year."
Marquart emphasized the sale of the land to the GTH was "a normal business transaction."
Swenson said more investigation is necessary because so much public money changed hands in a short period of time.
"If there can't be some sort of plausible reasonable explanation of connections like this then I think we need to be turning things over to the legal system because we're talking about a pile of money here and we're talking about this money changing hands very quickly for no reason that I can ascertain," Swenson said.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a statement from Bill Boyd that was received after the initial publication.
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