VICTORIA – B.C.'s Auditor General has found no political interference in the government's 2010 decision to forgive $6 million in legal defence costs for former ministerial aides Dave Basi and Bobby Virk.
The legal costs decision was announced two days after Basi and Virk pleaded guilty to one count each of breach of trust and accepting benefits, after seven years of investigation into their role in leaking confidential information on bids for the sale of BC Rail assets.
The guilty pleas, on the eve of testimony by former cabinet ministers, prompted the audit to examine the decision to waive collection of the legal fees. That was contrary to the existing policy that while the government would cover legal defence costs for its employees, that money would be recovered if employees were found guilty.
In a report released Wednesday, acting Auditor General Russ Jones concluded that the plea bargain and fee relief were proposed to the Legal Services Branch of the Attorney General's ministry by Basi and Virk's defence lawyers. The final decision was made by the former deputy attorney general and deputy minister of finance, with politicians purposely excluded.
"The decision was an economic decision," Jones said. "It was to save money."
The government had spent $6 million to date and would be putting up another $2 million for defence bills if the trial had continued. Combined prosecution and defence costs were costing taxpayers $15,000 for each day of a trial expected to take six months.
The audit noted that Basi and Virk's combined assets were valued at $400,000.
The B.C. government not only covers legal costs for its employees, but for defendants in large criminal trials who can't afford their own defence. Fees were paid for convicted serial killer Robert William Pickton and for Jamie Bacon, one of the accused in the current Surrey Six murder case.
Attorney General Suzanne Anton said the government is acting on the auditor's recommendations to make the process of covering employee legal fees more transparent.