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Former government ministers, insiders on witness list for legislature raid case

VANCOUVER, B.C. - Two former B.C. government ministers are on a list of nearly four dozen high-profile witnesses slated to testify when the oft-stalled legislature raid trial finally gets underway later this month.

VANCOUVER, B.C. - Two former B.C. government ministers are on a list of nearly four dozen high-profile witnesses slated to testify when the oft-stalled legislature raid trial finally gets underway later this month.

More than five years after RCMP showed up at the legislature with a search warrant, the accused officially entered guilty pleas in a B.C. Supreme Court room and a jury was selected Wednesday.

"It's going ahead," Michael Bolton, the defence lawyer for former government aide Dave Basi, said outside the court.

Bolton said neither he nor his colleagues would be commenting further with the trial in sight.

Basi and Bobby Virk are charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes over allegations they accepted money and other benefits in exchange for leaking information about the $1-billion sale of Crown-owned BC Rail to Canadian National Railway (TSX:CNR).

Basi worked for then-finance minister Gary Collins, while Virk worked for then-transportation minister Judith Reid.

Basi's cousin Aneal Basi, a government communications officer, is charged with money laundering.

Collins and Reid are among the 44 witnesses scheduled to take the stand when the six-week trial starts on May 17.

The case that has cast a shadow over the B.C. Liberal government and its privatization of the Crown railway began in late December 2003, when RCMP arrived at the legislature and seized boxes of documents from the offices of Basi and Virk.

The Crown alleges the two sold confidential documents about BC Rail to a lobbyist for one of three bidders vying for the Crown corporation at the time, Denver-based OmniTRAX.

Former employees of lobby firm Pilothouse Public Affairs Group, Brian Kieran and Erik Bornman, are also on the list of witnesses and are expected to give key testimony.

Premier Gordon Campbell's chief political strategist, Martin Brown, and his former deputy ministers, Brenda Eaton and Ken Dobell, are also on the witness list read to prospective jurors on Wednesday. So are CN Rail CEO Claude Mongeau, former CP Rail CEO Bob Ritchie and OmniTrax executives.

The accused men, who have remained free without being required to post bail, entered their pleas before Justice Anne Mackenzie in booming voices.

They opted for a jury trial in February after previously requesting a trial by judge alone. A panel of five women, seven men were chosen to sit on the jury that will hear the case.

The complex case has taken years to wind through the legal system as the defence lawyers sought almost a million pages in disclosure documents, including emails, from the government.

In selecting the jury, Mackenzie acknowledged to the courtroom full of jurors that the case has had wide media attention, and she asked that if anyone felt they could not be impartial, they should inform the court. At least one person did so.

 
 
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