Attorney general sent into lion's den, escapes unscathed

Following the announcement charges would be laid against former ministerial assistants David Basi and Bob Virk, as well as public affairs officer Aneal Basi, Attorney General Geoff Plant phoned the press gallery to give government's take on the day's events. During that call, Attorney General Plant acknowledged the charges are not limited to the Roberts Bank deal, but rather the whole British Columbia Rail privatization initiative. He refused to speculate on whether Finance Minister Gary Collins would have been forced to resign because of those charges had he not already left government last week. The following is a rush transcript of the scrum.

Media Do you have a statement or do you want us to shout questions?

Attorney General Plant I do not have a statement.

Media What is the government's response to this situation in terms of public's confidence in the B.c. Rail deal.

Attorney General Plant My responsibility, first and foremost, is as Attorney General to say this is a process that has clearly taken a next, very serious step forward. The decision to lay charges is not a decision that would be made lightly. In this case, its been made by a special prosecutor who is independent of government. There is a very carefully structured process to make sure that decision like this are free from political influence. So I don't know a whole lot really about what's happened today other than the information that I received a copy of an hour or so ago. It's important to point out that the laying of charges doesn't represent anything like a finding of guilt. There will now be a court process. And, at the end of the day, the question of whether or not these individuals have done anything wrong will be decided by a court. And that's how it should be. As a member of government, I'm disappointed that this has taken the next step. But I'm not, frankly, completely surprised given that the police took this all very seriously a year ago when they went to get a warrant to seize documents at the legislature. And the question of how this relates to various aspects of B.C. Rail and the CN Rail partnership is a question that is more appropriately directed to Kevin Falcon.

Media Will Kevin Falcon be made available today?

Attorney General Plant I'm not responsible for Kevin's whereabouts. But I'm pretty sure he's around somewhere. I chatted to him. We both obviously have been following the news. And I wanted him to know what the information said in summary.

Media Geoff, when did government become aware that charges were going to be laid?

Attorney General Plant I knew a day or so ago that there was expectation that Mr. Berardino do what he said he would do a few months ago, which was to make a decision before the end of the year.

Media You've read the information. Were you surprised? I think the public had been led to believe that anything that happened related to the Roberts Bank line. Were you surprised, as a member of government, when you read the information that it was much more extensive?

Attorney General Plant Well what I can say is to confirm the second part of your statement Paul (Willcocks). Which is to say, on the face of it, the charges here are not limited to the port subdivision contract. And I don't know anything about these charges beyond what's on the face of the information. But they clearly appear to be more general - although they appear to only relate to OmniTRAX.

Media Nor do they seem confined to just B.C. Rail. Because my reading of the information (seems to indicate the charges are) related to matters of government business including OmniTRAX. That would suggest that this is not exclusively limited to B.C. Rail.

Attorney General Plant The words lend themselves to that interpretation. But the words are also fairly standard language for an information laying a criminal charge. I don't know one way or another as to whether they're intended to go more broadly than that.

Media Can you just fill us in on Aneal Basi. Does he still work for government? When did he stop working for the government?

Attorney General Plant I'm pretty sure Aneal Basi worked for the government as of the first thing this morning. Martyn Brown, as the chief of staff, was responsible for making some employment-related decisions a year ago when the search warranted was executed on the legislature. I know that he is thinking about what the significance of today's developments are for the employment status of Bobby Virk and Aneal Basi. But, as of an hour or so ago, when I last spoke to Martyn, he had not as yet made a decision so far as I know.

Media We had the resignation last week of a colleague of yours, Gary Collins, and the assumption was that (his resignation) was not connected to the legislature raids or charges. Given what's happened today, would it be fair to say that this is a situation today where Gary Collins would have had to resign given the very serious charges that have been laid against his former aide?

Attorney General Plant I can't, at this point, draw those conclusions. I am just reading these allegations this afternoon for the first time. They are serious. They clearly relate to the performance of duties of office - at least by Dave Basi and Mr. Virk. Beyond that, I can't really go much further in speculating about what the implications might have been for people who are no longer members of cabinet.

Media To the best of your knowledge Geoff, when it comes to information about the charges, who else was aware of what was going to happen and when were they aware?

Attorney General Plant To the best of my knowledge, the solicitor general was aware earlier today because he called me.

Media But no one else?

Attorney General Plant I don't know if anyone else knew that charges would be laid. I know that there were some folks in the premier's office who were aware of this sort of ticking clock on the fact that the special prosecutor had said he was going to make a decision by the end of the year. But that's the extent of what I know.

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