Auditor wants BC Rail trial costs

B.C. Auditor-General John Doyle has applied to B.C. Supreme Court for details of the legal defence costs for Dave Basi and Bob Virk, convicted of breach of trust last fall for their role in the sale of BC Rail operations.

Auditor-General John Doyle

VICTORIA – B.C. Auditor-General John Doyle has applied to B.C. Supreme Court for details of the legal defence costs for Dave Basi and Bob Virk, convicted of breach of trust last fall for their role in the sale of BC Rail operations.

In a petition filed Tuesday, a lawyer for the auditor-general’s office said the information is needed so Doyle can sign off on the province’s accounts for the fiscal year. The province’s lawyer offered to comply, but lawyers for Basi and Virk cited lawyer-client privilege and refused.

Attorney General Barry Penner said the government agreed to waive its confidentiality for the audit, and won’t oppose Doyle’s court application for the information.

In May, Penner appointed University of B.C. president Stephen Toope to review the province’s policy of covering legal fees for public servants who are sued or charged in connection with their duties.

The B.C. government’s decision to pay an estimated $6 million in defence costs has been a lightning rod for critics. The policy was for the government to pay for legal defence of employees, and recover those costs if the employee is found guilty.

Ministerial assistants in the B.C. Liberal government while BC Rail operations were up for sale in 2002-03, Basi and Virk pleaded guilty in October 2010 to disclosing confidential bidding information and accepting benefits from a competing bidder. Their guilty pleas put an abrupt end to an eight-year investigation and court case that began with a police raid on the B.C. legislature.

Cabinet members have insisted there was no political interference in the decision to pay Basi and Virk’s legal bills, made by the deputy finance minister and deputy attorney general. They determined that the majority of costs from years of pre-trial arguments would never be recovered from Basi and Virk, and costs to taxpayers would continue to mount without the guilty pleas.

In legislature debate in February, interim NDP leader Dawn Black noted that the $6 million legal payment was the same amount cut from the Crown prosecutor budget this year.

“The government only covers defence costs in the event of an acquittal, but two Liberal insiders were given a last-minute sweetheart deal that cut short the BC Rail corruption trial,” Black said.

B.C. Liberal house leader Rich Coleman replied that the accused filed a statement of fact with their guilty pleas, stating that they acted alone.