David Basi hirings, firings intrigue

An unreliable ally is more dangerous than a clever opponent.

-- Sun Tzu (544-496 BC)

David Basi--the fired ministerial assistant to former B.C. Finance Minister Gary Collins who has been charged with breach of trust, fraud, and accepting bribes in connection with the $1 billion B.C. Rail privatization--applied and was rejected for a staff job with the B.C. Liberal caucus after the 1996 provincial election, the Georgia Straight has learned.

Basi, who was an employee of the provincial government at the time, was later hired directly by Collins after the Liberals won the May 2001 election.

But Basi's earlier attempt to find work with the then-Opposition caucus was thwarted after a check of his references and other due diligence led to a decision not to hire him, according to a B.C. Liberal source. Basi was also charged in September 2004 with drug-trafficking in connection with an alleged marijuana grow-op.

The Straight has also learned that Aneal Basi--the fired provincial government public-affairs officer who has been charged in the same December 21 indictment with two counts of money-laundering in connection with bribes allegedly paid to his cousin David Basi--once worked in the Vancouver constituency office of former federal Liberal cabinet minister Herb Dhaliwal.

Dhaliwal has previously accused David Basi of helping organize a hostile takeover of Dhaliwal's Vancouver Southí‚ ­Burnaby federal Liberal riding association as part of Prime Minister Paul Martin's 2003 leadership campaign.

And former deputy premier Christy Clark's brother, Bruce Clark, whose home was searched by police in December 2003 in connection to the Basi investigation, was, surprisingly, returned to an executive position with the Liberal party of Canada in B.C. in charge of finance at the party's November 2004 convention.

Bruce Clark, who is one of Paul Martin's top fundraisers in B.C., is alleged by police in search-warrant information to have received confidential government documents from David Basi pertaining to the proposed privatization of B.C. Rail's Roberts Bank spur line, estimated to be worth up to $100 million. B.C. Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon cancelled that sale in March 2004 after being told by RCMP that the process had been compromised by the leak of confidential information to a bidder. Clark has not been charged in the investigation.

This new information indicates that the political ramifications of the still-developing scandal are far from over for either the provincial or federal Liberals.

One unanswered question is why the B.C. Liberal caucus refused to hire David Basi after the 1996 election loss to the NDP. According to the source, Opposition house leader Gary Collins was reportedly unhappy with the decision to reject Basi, with whom he had formed a friendship when Basi served as an intern with the Liberal Opposition in the early 1990s.

After the 2001 election, Basi was the only ministerial aide hired directly by a cabinet minister. All other MAs were appointed by Martyn Brown, Premier Gordon Campbell's chief of staff.

Brown told the Province newspaper on December 23 that he had ruled out any change in procedures for hiring political staff despite the charges laid against Basi with regard to the B.C. Rail deal. Similar breach of trust and fraud charges were also laid December 21 against Bob Virk, the former MA to thení‚ ­Transportation Minister Judith Reid.

"In neither case would any kind of background check...have turned up any criminal activity," Brown told the Province.

Andy Orr, executive director of the communications division of the public-affairs bureau, responded to the Straight's request for an interview with Brown but said he could not comment on David Basi's post-1996 election application for work with the Liberal caucus. Brown was unavailable, Orr said.

Then there is the puzzling hiring of Aneal Basi to the position of a public-affairs officer working in the Transportation Ministry. Aneal Basi was hired in July 2002 at the age of 22. His main claim to fame was his past role as a star player on Canada's national field-hockey team.

But Aneal Basi also had worked for the federal Liberal government in the summer of 2000 on a federal government program that promoted exchanges between students from Quebec and western Canada.

Orr said Aneal Basi was qualified for the entry-level public-affairs position but declined to provide any details of Basi's experience prior to being hired for the job, which paid him $50,727 in the last fiscal year ending March 31, 2004.

Liberal sources told the Straight that Aneal Basi worked in Herb Dhaliwal's Vancouver constituency office in the summer of 2000.

Thení‚ ­Finance Minister Collins introduced Aneal in the B.C. legislature on March 27, 2001, as a member of the B.C. Young Liberals.

The criminal charges have raised new questions about the scandal.

Count three of the December 21 indictment states that David Basi "accepted from a person who has dealings with the government rewards, advantages and benefits being money, meals, travel and employment opportunities without having received consent in writing of the head of the branch of government of which he is an official, contrary to Section 121 (1) (c) of the Criminal Code."

So, who is the "person who has dealings with the government" and why has that person not been charged with offering a bribe?

Search-warrant "information to obtain" that was released by police in September 2004 indicated that provincial lobbyist and former federal Liberal party executive member Erik Bornman is alleged to have offered Basi and Virk a benefit--help in obtaining $100,000-plus jobs with the federal Liberal government--in exchange for obtaining confidential information about the B.C. Rail deals.

Bornman was a political assistant to Paul Martin in the federal Finance Department before forming a Victoria lobbyist firm called Pilothouse Public Affairs Group with former Province newspaper columnist Brian Kieran. Bornman was listed as not being under investigation in the search warrant's information to obtain despite allegedly offering the benefit and later having his home office searched by police.

But RCMP Sgt. John Ward told the Straight on January 7: "We continue our investigation and I can't really say anything about it." Ward said there could be further charges.

Bill Tieleman is president of West Star Communications and a regular political commentator on CBC Radio One's Early Edition. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net.