'Criminal charges will be sought' in Winnipeg police HQ, Canada Post mail plant probe, say RCMP
130 witnesses interviewed, 15 search warrants and production orders executed in 2 1/2-year investigation
CBC News has learned RCMP will be seeking charges against several people in connection with the construction of the Winnipeg police headquarters building and the Canada Post Mail Processing Plant near the Winnipeg James Richardson International Airport, according to an RCMP statement sent to CBC News on Thursday.
"While criminal charges will be sought against several individuals, the RCMP are not in a position to make any further comment," said Tara Seel, RCMP spokesperson.
Late Friday afternoon, the Mounties said while the statement regarding possible charges was accurate it was "premature" because the investigation is still ongoing. RCMP cautioned their position could change by the time the police probe is complete.
This comes more than two and a half years after the Mounties first began to probe criminal allegations in the police HQ building project, and more than 18 months after they began looking into the Canada Post mail plant.
"The RCMP are near completion of their investigations into the Winnipeg Police Headquarters and the Canada Post Mail Processing Plant," said Seel in a statement to CBC, but she would not give a specific timeframe.
The Mounties would not reveal who could be facing charges, but search warrants and production orders obtained by CBC News have named contractor Armik Babakhanians of Caspian Construction, office manager Pam Anderson, ex-City of Winnipeg CAO Phil Sheegl, consultants Peter Chang and Patrick Dubuc. All were suspected in various criminal offences ranging from fraud to breach of trust in court documents filed throughout the investigation. There's no indication whether the anticipated charges are related to those suspicions. No charges have been laid and none of the allegations have been proven in court.
- Fraud, fake documents alleged in Winnipeg police HQ investigation, say court documents
CBC asked if the files have been forwarded to the Crown as is the normal procedure in order for charges to be laid. Seel said "disclosure to Public Prosecutions has been ongoing for several months."
As for why it's taken this long to look into these two construction projects, RCMP said they had to be thorough in their probe.
"These investigations are very complex in nature and have required interviews with over 130 witnesses. In addition, the RCMP have executed at least 15 search warrants and production orders under the Criminal Code. The volume of evidence that has been collected in these investigations has impacted the time required to complete both investigations and disclose the evidence," said Seel.
Evidence from 2 provinces
In June 2015, police raided an office inside the WPS HQ building occupied by engineering firm Adjeleian Allen Rubeli (AAR), which worked on the HQ construction project. There they seized four bankers boxes of documents, according to an August 2015 court document.
In June 2016 RCMP searched a Transcona warehouse owned by a numbered company controlled by Armik Babakhanians, the president of Caspian Construction, where they seized eight bankers boxes of records related to the construction of the Canada Post Mail Processing Plant.
The Mounties also got a number of production orders forcing financial institutions to hand over information and records on at least 14 different bank accounts. RCMP obtained a court order from an Ontario judge for Caspian's backup computer data that an Ottawa-based company maintained on its servers, which — according to court records — amounted to approximtely 1.2 terabytes, or nearly a half million files.
To give the courts a better idea of how much work that would amount to, RCMP said an estimated 85,899,345 pages of word documents fill a terabyte.
"The problem is when you're dealing with terabytes of data as they've referred to, is if you print it all out and stack it up it would be about to the CN tower in terms of height so there's so many documents to go through," John Sliter told CBC over he phone from his home in Ottawa Ontario. Sliter is a retired RCMP superintendent of capital markets and financial crime programs, who now works as a consultant.
He did not work on either the WPS HQ or the Canada Post mail plant investigation but as a former RCMP commercial crimes investigator he agreed to give some insight into these types of cases.
"Any fraud is tough to work with ... tough to prove because you have to prove the criminal intent. That's always the hard part," said Sliter. "In many major cases in Canada, what we've found in the past that's happened, is police have successfully proved that someone profited from a given scheme [but] did they have the criminal intent?"
Team of investigators
RCMP outlined their investigative team in a December 2015 Ontario court document. It included 10 Mounties, three of whom were seconded from the Federal Serious Organized Crime Unit. They also had four civilians, an analyst and a forensic accountant working on the two fraud cases.
The Mounties said a member of the D Division Technical Crime Unit also continued to assist in the investigations.
"The approach they're taking on this is a good one," said Sliter. "They've brought in suitable resources from different aspects including major case management which is always good."
"There are no hard and fast rules for how long an investigation can take," said Scott Newman, spokesperson for the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association of Manitoba.
He said if a charge is laid it will ultimately be up to a judge to decide if the police investigation took too long.
"They are going to look at the complexity of the investigation, they are going to look to see how many documents there are. Are we talking tens of thousands of documents? How many witnesses are there? How many experts are there?" said Newman.
"It's difficult to know until you get in front of a judge and you make your arguments." He added the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal recently ruled a 10-year investigation was reasonable.
Chang and the lawyer representing Sheegl declined comment. Dubuc, Babakhanians and Anderson did not immediately respond to CBC's request and have never spoken to CBC about the allegations made by the RCMP throughtout the investigation. In the past, Sheegl's lawyer has said his client has done nothing illegal. Chang previously told CBC News he was cooperating with the investigation.
- An earlier version contained the following RCMP statement sent to CBC News on Thursday. "While criminal charges will be sought against several individuals, the RCMP are not in a position to make any further comment." Late Friday afternoon, RCMP spokesperson Tara Seel said while the statement is accurate it was "premature" to say charges will be sought because the investigations are not complete and cautioned that anything could happen between now and then. The original RCMP statement also contained the line "disclosure to Public Prosecutions has been ongoing for several months," but was removed from comments issued to media outlets Friday afternoon.Aug 25, 2017 4:51 PM CT
- We initially reported that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled a 10-year investigation was reasonable. In fact, the ruling was made by the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal.Aug 29, 2017 11:14 AM CT