A political corruption trial that has dragged on for years, cost millions of dollars, and threatened to draw back the curtains on the backroom dealings of the B.C. Liberal government came to a sudden conclusion Monday in B.C. Supreme Court.
Defendants Dave Basi and Bob Virk agreed to change their plea to guilty on a reduced number of charges. The deal will allow the pair to avoid jail time but they will be placed under house arrest.
Charges against a third person, Aneal Basi, cousin of Dave, were dropped altogether.
The astonishing development comes on the eve of what was expected to be explosive testimony by former finance minister Gary Collins. Mr. Collins was going to be the first of several high-profile political figures who were scheduled to take the stand in this case. The defence had hinted there was a chance Premier Gordon Campbell was going to be called to testify, along with a long list of politicians past and present.
Dave Basi and Mr. Virk were accused of taking bribes - cash, meals and NFL tickets - in exchange for leaking confidential material about the sale to another bidder, OmniTrax.
Prosecutor Bill Berardino told B.C. Supreme Court on Monday that Dave Basi and Mr. Virk have "come forward and admitted a grave error in judgment."
He said each of the men has a young family, no criminal record and has experienced a serious fall from grace.
Mr. Berardino said in a joint submission the appropriate sentence would be two years less a day of house arrest under strict conditions.
Justice Anne MacKenzie accepted that submission, and also sentenced Dave Basi and Mr. Virk to 150 hours each of community service.
The men will be able to leave their homes to go to work or the doctor, Ms. MacKenzie said.
They can also shop and exercise away from their residence, but must avoid drugs and alcohol.
Dave Basi will also pay a $75,695 fine for money he took in exchange for information around the sale and helping to have some property removed from the agricultural land reserve.
Outside court, Dave Basi told reporters the slow pace of the case was a factor in his plea.
"My family does not deserve to go through this, whenever this is going to end," he said.
"I'm going to go home now. I'm going to hug my family, I'm going to hug my mom, I'm going to hug my wife. I'm going to thank them, I'm going to thank my uncle for standing by me for seven years and this is the first day of the rest of my life."
Mr. Virk was just as eager to end the case.
"I'm going to go home today, I'm going to play with my kids," he told reporters. "It's over, I'm moving on, and that's all I have to say."
Mike Farnworth, the B.C. opposition's house leader, said the biggest corruption case in the history of the province has ended with a whimper. The New Democrat said the questions of the public must still be answered.
"It stinks," he said. "The air needs to be cleared and there should be a public inquiry to get to the bottom of it."
The trial stems from the December 2003 raid on the B.C. legislature, which was prompted by a 20-months drug investigation. At the time, the RCMP said there was evidence that the tentacles of organized crime had reached the highest levels of power in the province.
Those provocative claims never materialized.
But a year after the raid, three political aides were charged with various counts of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust in connection with the $1-billion 2003 sale of BC Rail to Canadian National.
Mr. Davi Basi was ministerial aide to Mr. Collins at the time, while Mr. Virk was ministerial assistant to then-transport minister Judith Reid. Aneal Basi was a low-level political aide in the transportation ministry.
It was alleged that Mr. Basi and Mr. Virk had provided confidential government information to lobbyists representing one of the bidders for the rail line in exchange for $30,000 in cash and other benefits. The Crown said in its opening that the money was laundered through a third party, Aneal Basi.
While the charges against the accused were entered in early 2004, the trial didn't begin in earnest until this past spring. Much of the time before that was eaten up in pre-trial hearings, with the Crown and lawyers for the accused sparring daily over the release of literally hundreds of thousands of documents related to the case.
In 2009, the judge who presided over the pre-trial hearings and who was supposed to hear the case, Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett, was promoted to the B.C. Court of Appeal, which necessitated a new judge, Justice Anne MacKenzie, taking over in the spring of last year. But even after the trial got underway this past May it was continually getting bogged down for one reason or another - a sick jury member, a sick defendant, voir dires, summer holidays.
With a file from The Canadian Press