Manitoba

'Looks like a fraud, walks like a fraud': Canada Post lawyer argues for access to Caspian documents

There's evidence of fraud in sworn affidavits and documents the RCMP filed as part of their criminal investigation into the construction of the Winnipeg police headquarters and the Canada Post mail processing plant, Canada Post's lawyer told a judge Tuesday morning.

Crown corporation wants to see evidence connected to multimillion-dollar construction of Winnipeg mail plant

RCMP raided Caspian Construction’s offices in December 2014. (CBC)

There's evidence of fraud in sworn affidavits and documents the RCMP filed as part of their criminal investigation into the construction of the Winnipeg police headquarters and the Canada Post mail processing plant, Canada Post's lawyer told a judge Tuesday morning.

Canada Post is fighting in court for the right to view and analyze documents seized by the RCMP in their three-year fraud investigation into the two multimillion-dollar projects built by Caspian Construction and Caspian Projects, two companies owned by Winnipeg contractor Armik Babakhanians.

"There's no doubt that the documents that have been seized demonstrate a concern or effect on my client," said Bob Sokalski, Canada Post's lawyer. "They're looking to see what these documents may reveal."

The Crown corporation specifically wants access to two binders the RCMP obtained from a search of Caspian's head office in 2014 and eight file storage boxes police seized from a Caspian warehouse last summer, which Canada Post believes will provide evidence of fraud, Sokalski said.

"The best evidence before you is eyewitness accounts of RCMP examining documents," Sokalski argued.

Canada Post lawyer argues for access to Caspian documents

CBC News Manitoba

4 years ago
2:18
There's evidence of fraud in sworn affidavits and documents the RCMP filed as part of their criminal investigation into the construction of the Winnipeg police headquarters and the Canada Post mail processing plant, Canada Post's lawyer told a judge Tuesday morning. 2:18

He went on to read from sworn affidavits and Information to Obtain a Search Warrant documents the Mounties presented to a judge, detailing their case in order to get authorizations for search warrants.

In those court documents, the RCMP alleged Caspian owner Armik Babakhanians and Caspian employee Pam Anderson defrauded Canada Post by submitting inflated invoices and false change-order and cost-breakdown sheets during the 2008-12 construction period.

Invoice binders marked 'true,' 'inflated'

The Mounties pointed to specific evidence to support those claims, including two binders containing mail-sorting-plant invoices marked "true" and "inflated," the police affidavits said.

"No one from Caspian has stood up and said that's not what the documents say. I have an explanation as to what 'true,' 'actual' and 'inflated' mean," Sokalski said.

"Justice Bond, you can look at that and say, 'Hmm … looks like a fraud, walks like a fraud; maybe it is a fraud.'"

The RCMP received permission from a judge to hold on to mail-processing-plant construction records such as this invoice, marked "inflated." (RCMP)
Canada Post is a public institution and it is in the public interest to investigate the possible fraud and take civil action, he said. 

Canada Post fears if it is not given access to those documents now, it will never get to see them, he said.

"Caspian hasn't taken an oath to say they'll get the documents back from the Crown and don't worry, they'll be here waiting for you," Sokalski said. "If that documentation gets back into the hands of the people who wrote 'true' and 'inflated,' there's no guarantee it will be there when released from the secure hands of the RCMP."

Caspian, the Crown and the RCMP all oppose disclosure of the documents. 

Senior Crown attorney Terry McComb told the court she fears sharing the documents with Canada Post could compromise the investigation, which is not yet complete. 

"The Crown has received some of the evidence. The Crown has not received all of the evidence," said McComb, adding the Crown is still reviewing the files and deciding whether or not charges should be laid. 

"The Crown is concerned this could make a fair trial unattainable." 

Sokalski said before Canada Post files any documents in a civil suit that may contain details not yet made public, it will contact the attorneys general of Manitoba and Canada to ask whether either department has concerns about the disclosure.

If they do, but those details are necessary for the civil suit, Canada Post will head right back to court and seek direction in the matter, Sokalski said.​

"Canada Post wants you to know they are very, very respectful of the criminal justice process."

His client won't do anything to compromise the Crown's case, he said. 

Crown attorney Denis Guénette expressed concern about the implications of Canada Post's court fight on prosecution resources. 

"This will, even on this case, divert resources from what prosecutors should be doing, which is prosecute a case. It's diverting efforts. It's deflecting efforts for a civil purpose."

Caspian's lawyers will present their case opposing the release of the documents in court on Wednesday morning. 

None of the allegations have been proven in court and no charges have been laid in connection with the investigations.

Babakhanians did not respond to a request for comment. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Caroline Barghout

Investigative Reporter, CBC Manitoba I-Team

Caroline began her career co-hosting an internet radio talk show in Toronto and then worked at various stations in Oshawa, Sudbury and Toronto before landing in Winnipeg in 2007. Since joining CBC Manitoba as a reporter in 2013, she has won an award for her work on crowded jails and her investigation into Tina Fontaine's death led to changes in the child welfare system. Email: caroline.barghout@cbc.ca

now