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Basi-Virk trial not expected to drag on Add to ...

A political corruption case that has been before the courts for nearly six years will unfold relatively quickly once the trial starts, the Supreme Court of British Columbia has been told.

"We are anticipating … the trial would take something in the order of … eight to 10 weeks," special prosecutor William Berardino said.

It is the first time the Crown has put a time frame on the prosecution of three former government employees - Dave Basi, Bob Virk and Aneal Basi - on charges of fraud, breach of trust and money laundering.

The charges are related to alleged activities of the three men surrounding the government's $1-billion sale of BC Rail in 2003-04.

The case has been watched with interest in B.C. because Dave Basi and Mr. Virk were both high-level political aides in the Liberal government and it has been expected the trial would reveal the inner workings of Premier Gordon Campbell's government.

Mr. Berardino said the Crown will call "seven or eight core witnesses" and an undetermined number of secondary witnesses, depending on what direction the trial takes.

Mr. Berardino also told Madam Justice Anne MacKenzie that discussions with defence lawyers in recent weeks have led to rapid progress on a whole slate of pretrial motions that were threatening to bog down the process.

He said the defence will no longer proceed with applications challenging either wiretap evidence or the validity of search warrants that were served on the legislative offices of Dave Basi and Mr. Virk in December, 2003.

Also to be dropped by the defence are an abuse-of-process application - which would have sought to have the case dismissed because it has taken so long - and a motion for disclosure of more third-party records.

Discussions on moving the trial from Vancouver to Victoria, and a defence motion to elect a jury trial are also being resolved outside court, Mr. Berardino said, without indicating exactly what agreements have been struck.

"That's the progress we've made, so I am encouraged," he said.

Mr. Berardino said he would come back to court on Feb. 8 to give a final update and he expected to be ready on that day, or by Feb. 10 at the latest, to set a trial date.

Madam Justice MacKenzie, who, when she took over the case last year, said she wanted to go to trial by February, thanked defence and Crown lawyers for settling their disputes outside court and preventing further delays.

"The court wants to acknowledge the hard work of counsel … it's in the interest of the administration of justice," she said.

Outside court, Michael Bolton, who is defending Dave Basi, said he agreed with Mr. Berardino's statements, but cautioned that it's hard to predict the exact length of any trial.

"It's difficult to say exactly," he replied when asked how many witnesses the defence would summon. "It obviously will depend on which witnesses the Crown calls."

Mr. Berardino said while the majority of the outstanding applications have been withdrawn, that doesn't mean the defence is retreating.

"The Crown and defence [still]have a fundamental and basic disagreement about the Crown's ability to prove their case," he said.

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