Monday, May 09, 2011
BC Rail: When Gary met Pat and Dwight at the Wolf's place, who paid?
Denver Post Staff Writer
Denver [Colorado, USA] real estate and railroad investor Pat Broe and a colleague dined at a pricey Italian restaurant in Vancouver, British Columbia, in December 2003 with the province's minister of finance.
Apparently unknown to them, the downtown restaurant was staked out by undercover federal agents of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who videotaped the meeting, according to Canadian court records.
Police were interested in whether Broe's Denver-based company, OmniTrax Inc., would receive a gift from the finance minister's office for acting as a straw bidder in an auction for British Columbia's provincial railroad, court records reveal.
But if investigators were focused on Broe and former minister Gary Collins, they later lost interest. Neither was ever named a target of the government's investigation, and the details of their conversation at Villa del Lupo restaurant on Dec. 12, 2003, were never released. OmniTrax officials said in a 2004 statement the company acted properly during the bidding.
Broe and his company, however, remain deeply entangled in the mess.
According to documents filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia in Vancouver, two lobbyists hired by OmniTrax allegedly paid bribes to ministerial aides for information about the bidding. The bribes were worth nearly $30,000, according to published reports based on additional court filings.
The investigation led to criminal charges against three former government officials who could go to trial in Vancouver as early as August.
The lobbyists - Erik Bornmann and Brian Kieran - were not charged and are expected to testify for the government at trial, according to court records and an attorney involved in the case.
Also on the list of potential witnesses are Broe and former OmniTrax president Dwight Johnson, who dined with Broe and Collins that night in 2003.
Bornmann could not be reached for comment. An attorney who represents him said Friday that Bornmann was not available. Kieran, reached at his home near Victoria, British Columbia, declined to comment but confirmed he will testify as a witness for the Crown.
The case has drawn intense coverage from Canada's newspapers and on the Internet. In addition to a secret videotaping of a high-ranking public official, it features wiretapped phone conversations revealing unguarded political discussions.
OmniTrax is a political player in Canada, where it operates railroads in three provinces and owns the grain-distributing Port of Churchill on Hudson Bay.
"Your worst nightmare is for your name to become known through a criminal trial," said Bill Tieleman, a blogger and political columnist for 24 Hours newspaper in Vancouver who writes regularly on the case. His blog is at billtieleman.blogspot.com.
Charged in the case are Dave Basi, formerly an aide to Collins; Bobby Virk, an aide to another minister and Basi's brother-in law; and Aneal Basi, a government communications official and Basi's cousin. Dave Basi and Virk are accused of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes. Aneal Basi is charged with money laundering.
One of the alleged bribes was a payment of $3,000 Canadian made by Kieran to Dave Basi and Virk to fly them and their wives to Denver in November 2002, according to a police document filed with the court by prosecutors. During the trip, Basi and Virk attended a Denver Broncos game against the Oakland Raiders with an OmniTrax official at the company's expense, according to the document.
Bornmann allegedly made the majority of the payments by writing checks to Aneal Basi, who later wrote checks to Dave Basi, according to another police document filed by prosecutors. Bornmann gave police details of the payments, they said in the document.
In a court filing, attorneys for the men said they "acted at all times under the direction of their superiors."
No evidence has emerged showing that OmniTrax officials were aware of the alleged bribes. Broe and Johnson did not return calls for comment on this story.
In March 2004, Johnson issued a statement that said, in part, "OmniTrax was never involved in any illegal activities regarding the BC Rail bid. We have delved deeply into this issue internally and we are assured that none of the individuals that we enlisted during the exhaustive bid process acted improperly."
The case came to public attention on Dec. 28, 2003, when police conducted an unprecedented raid of the offices of Basi and Virk in the British Columbia legislature, seizing nearly three dozen boxes of documents. Officials said little about the nature of their investigation at that time.
Nearly a year later, authorities indicted the three defendants.
Bornmann and Kieran, a former newspaper columnist, were political operatives in Vancouver working for Pilothouse Public Affairs Group.
The firm had a contract with OmniTrax, reportedly worth $300,000 Canadian, to help it win the rail bidding. The firm later changed its name to K&E Public Affairs, with Kieran as a partner.
OmniTrax was one of three finalists bidding in 2003 for the government-owned British Columbia Rail, Canada's third-largest railway. The auction was being handled by Collins' office, and Dave Basi was involved.
Late in 2003, one of the bidders, Canadian Pacific Railway, dropped out. CP Rail officials believed the government had already chosen another bidder, Canadian National Railway, as the successful bidder, according to a February court filing by the defense.
Listening in on Basi's phone, investigators learned in November 2003 that OmniTrax was considering dropping out for the same reason, the defense said in its filing. Basi tried to dissuade them.
"It was clearly in the Provincial government's political interest to have an auction with more than one bidder," defense attorneys said.
Canadian National won the bidding, paying $1 billion for BC Rail in late November 2003.
Investigators learned that OmniTrax might be given a "consolation prize" for having stayed in the bidding, according to the defense filing. The company was interested in a smaller spur line [the 40 km. line into Roberts Bank. - BC Mary] that also was being privatized, according to the filing, and had requested a meeting between OmniTrax officials and Collins. The Vancouver restaurant meeting followed.
The sale of the spur line was later canceled.
Bornmann, 31, is considered the key witness, having made most of the payments, prosecutors have said in documents.
Defense attorneys stated in their February court document that "the special prosecutor has advised defense counsel that Mr. Bornmann continues to this day to have the threat of criminal charges brought against him until after he testifies."
Staff writer Greg Griffin can be reached at 303-954-1241 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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