After guarding his words throughout a political corruption trial that has hung over his government for seven years, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell is lashing out at the two men - former ministerial aides - whose guilty pleas finally ended the saga.
"Two people acted on their own and acted criminally. And I think unfortunately for seven years they've claimed innocence, and their lawyers have pretended that they were innocent when they knew they were guilty," Mr. Campbell told reporters Tuesday. "They dragged their families through this for seven years, the taxpayers have paid millions of dollars for this for seven years. They are two criminals who are now paying their price."
On Monday, Dave Basi and Bob Virk entered surprise guilty pleas on charges of accepting benefits and breach of trust for leaking confidential information related to the $1-billion sale of BC Rail to CN Rail in 2003.
The guilty pleas came as part of a deal struck by special prosecutor William Berardino that reduced the charges, dropped allegations of fraud and money laundering and offered conditional sentences rather than jail time.
In a statement of facts filed in court, Mr. Basi and Mr. Virk agreed they "provided co-operation, and assistance" to Erik Bornman, Brian Kieran and Jamie Elmhirst, whose Victoria lobbying firm, Pilothouse Public Affairs, was representing a U.S. bidder for BC Rail.
"As a result of the delivery of the confidential information and assistance provided, Basi and Virk admit that they received benefits and advantages including money (as against Basi only) and a trip to Colorado to an NFL football game," the statement says.
The two men agreed they provided confidential information concerning both the sale of BC Rail's freight division and a proposed sale of a BC Rail port subdivision which was later cancelled by the government.
"The confidential information about BC Rail that Basi and Virk disclosed included information about the financial affairs of BC Rail, information protected by solicitor-client privilege, information about other bidders and their bids, information shared at [BC Rail]Evaluation Committee meetings, advisory reports prepared by investment bankers and information obtained in meetings with government officials," the statement of facts says.
The two accused men were sentenced to house arrest for two years less a day. Charges of money laundering against a third former government employee, Aneal Basi, were dropped.
Mr. Campbell sounded testy when asked if the actions of the former senior political aides have left a stain on his government.
He said Mr. Basi and Mr. Virk are guilty of criminal acts, but it's important not to "even think for a minute that anyone else in the public service is following the same kind of action." He noted his B.C. Liberal Party has won re-election twice since the scandal erupted with a police raid on the legislature buildings on Dec. 28, 2003.
He would not comment on a decision by legal services to allow the pair off the hook for their $6-million in legal bills.
And the Premier defended his decision to reject calls for a public inquiry.
"A public inquiry would cost millions of dollars," he said. "Justice has run its full course. Like others, I have personal opinions about what has taken place, what the results were, but I'm not going to comment on the actions of the courts."
NDP Leader Carole James, however, said the longer the Liberal government refuses to answer questions about the BC Rail case, the more public suspicion will deepen.
"For seven years, the B.C. Liberals have hid behind the courts and refused to answer questions related to the BC Rail corruption trial," she said. "That has created an enormous amount of suspicion about the government's involvement."
She renewed her call for a public inquiry, and said Mr. Campbell should also explain the details of the government decision not to pursue legal fees owed by Mr. Basi and Mr. Virk.
"It's time for the Premier to commit to immediately releasing all documents related to the indemnification deal, including phone records, internal memos, approvals and e-mails," Ms. James said. "The trial has ended in court, but the political questions surrounding the case must be answered now."