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investigation

Cousins Bob Virk, left, and David Basi are seen in a December 2006 file photo.

This is a story of deceit, betrayal and corruption played out behind the scenes in the corridors of political power in British Columbia.

It starts with police investigating drug dealers and leads into the murky world of government lobbyists where investigators encounter a cast of characters, including the Baron and the Mexican - who traded not in narcotics, but in classified information.

At the heart of it are two corrupt government officials, a lobbyist willing to bribe, and one of the biggest privatization deals in the history of the province - the sale of BC Rail to Canadian National Railway for $1-billion.

Seven years after the BC Rail scandal began with an unprecedented police raid on the legislature offices of top ministerial aides Dave Basi and Bob Virk, the court case ended suddenly last October, when the two men entered surprise guilty pleas. They were sentenced to two years less a day under house arrest on charges of breach of trust and accepting bribes.

But questions about who knew what have grown because the case ended so abruptly. The public never had a chance to see evidence gathered by police in Project Everywhichway, an investigation that led 40 officers through more twists and turns than a game of Snakes and Ladders.

Since then there has been much speculation about why the plea bargain, which included a government agreement to pay $6-million in defence fees, was struck.

Now an application to the Supreme Court of British Columbia by The Globe and Mail and CTV has succeeded in releasing thousands of pages of police documents.

The material shows Mr. Basi was frantically busy in the months preceding the BC Rail deal, spinning a web of political intrigue aimed at getting him and Mr. Virk top staff jobs in the government of then-prime-minister Paul Martin.

The two aides were treated to dinners by lobbyists, taken with their wives to a football game in Denver, and promised help with career advancement (the possibility of a seat for Mr. Basi was dangled). Mr. Basi received cash payments. In return, he and Mr. Virk provided lobbyists with a flow of confidential government information in 17 separate transactions.

Mr. Basi wheeled around Victoria, working his cellphone constantly. He betrayed his boss, then-finance-minister Gary Collins, by advising lobbyists on how to manipulate him. He betrayed the government he had sworn an oath to serve, leaking secret information and plotting to undermine cabinet decisions.

And he even misled the lobbyists he conspired with - who thought he was a reliable inside source - lying to them about what Mr. Collins was saying.

He took bribes. He made hundreds of calls to drug dealers on his government cellphone. And at one point he arranged for a woman to provide sex to an individual whose help he desperately wanted in securing a "membership list."

"She'll be putting out like you wouldn't believe, pal," he tells the man in a taped call.

A few days later he calls again: "Who's your daddy? Do I come through?"

Man: "Oh yeah ..."

The man who bribed Mr. Basi was Erik Bornman, a partner in Pilothouse Public Affairs, a Victoria-based lobbying firm.

Mr. Basi received payments on a monthly basis, but it appears his main motive for leaking to Mr. Bornman was to secure connections with the federal Liberals.

Through Mr. Bornman, Mr. Basi hoped to get a top staff job in Ottawa, or perhaps even to emerge as a provincial or federal candidate.

Mr. Basi also dealt information to Bruce Clark, a Liberal fundraiser and lobbyist, for the same reason - to curry favour with someone with high connections.

Mr. Clark's sister, Christy Clark, then deputy premier, was at that point married to Mark Marissen, who ran Paul Martin's leadership campaign in B.C. The documents released Wednesday reveal no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Mr. Collins, Ms. Clark, her ex-husband or her brother.

Several police reports make it clear Mr. Basi and Mr. Virk were leaking so much, so fast that the two aides had lost track of what they'd given out.

"You sure you don't have any documents, man?" Mr. Basi said in a call to Mr. Virk .

"You wanted me to seal the deal, I've sealed the deal now. You must have some other papers beside the paper you already gave me," Mr. Basi said.

"I can't even remember what I gave you, seriously," Mr. Virk said.

The BC Rail story broke into public view on Dec. 28, 2003, when police raided the provincial legislature, carting away boxes of material from the offices of Mr. Basi, who was an aide to Mr. Collins, and Mr. Virk, who was an assistant to then-transportation-minister Judith Reid.

Simultaneously, police teams swept down on the offices of Pilothouse Public Affairs, a small but influential boutique lobbying firm run by Brian Kieran, a former journalist; Mr. Bornman, who was B.C. communications director for the federal Liberals, and Jamie Elmhirst, a former aide to federal Liberal cabinet minister David Anderson.

Pilothouse was lobbying on behalf of OmniTRAX Inc., a U.S. company that was bidding for BC Rail. The pressure was building on Pilothouse because it became clear early in the bidding process that CN had emerged as the front-runner.

Part of the Pilothouse strategy, worked out in detail with Mr. Basi and Mr. Virk at a remarkable meeting in the Hotel Grand Pacific just a few blocks from the legislature, was to lobby cabinet ministers to turn them against CN.

"We were going into the stretch run on the OmniTRAX project …the matter was going … to be decided at cabinet and we … laid out a strategy for how we would touch as many cabinet ministers as possible with our key messages," Mr. Bornman told police when they asked him about a document they'd seized listing the names of several cabinet ministers, including Barry Penner, Kevin Falcon and Christy Clark.