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B.C. government refuses to cover legal fees of ex-bureaucrat in corruption trial

A B.C. civil servant is paying his own legal fees in a breach of trust case, despite another case where the province picked up the tab.

Frances Twitty/iStockphoto/Frances Twitty/iStockphoto

Former top B.C. civil servant Ron Danderfer is paying his own legal bills in his breach of trust case, unlike former ministerial assistants Dave Basi and Bob Virk, who had the provincial government pick up the $6-million tab for their lawyers in the BC Rail political corruption trial.

Mr. Danderfer earlier this week pleaded guilty to breach of trust, admitting he accepted benefits - use of a Kelowna condominium, a job for his wife and an offer of post-retirement income - from someone doing business with government. He is slated to be sentenced July 14.

Mr. Danderfer, a former assistant deputy health minister responsible for technology, was in charge of eHealth, a multimillion-dollar program to digitize the province's health-monitoring records. He was suspended in July of 2007, when allegations first arose.

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Attorney General Barry Penner said Mr. Danderfer asked the government to pay his legal bill but ministry staff had decided not to advance funds in situations involving allegations of criminal activity until after the matter was concluded.

"As Mr. Danderfer has now pleaded guilty to one of the charges against him, he would not qualify for indemnity of his legal bills," Mr. Penner said.

Mr. Basi and Mr. Virk pleaded guilty to accepting benefits and breach of trust in October, 2010 and were sentenced to two years less a day following intense plea-bargaining negotiations. They admitted to leaking confidential information related to the $1-billion sale of BC Rail to lobbyists for a U.S. bidder in exchange for cash and other benefits. Mr. Basi and Mr. Virk were key political operatives as well as highly placed Liberal ministerial aides.

The Basi-Virk case stretched over seven years, much longer than the Danderfer case, which began four years ago. The government picked up Basi-Virk's legal bills because the two men did not have assets to cover what they owed, former attorney general Mike de Jong told reporters at that time.

Special prosecutor John Waddell, who represented the Crown in the Danderfer case, said Tuesday that his guilty plea followed negotiations with the defence. Much of the negotiations were confidential, protected by solicitor-client privilege, he said.

However, Mr. Waddell revealed that defence counsel was concerned about the huge cost of the court case when there was a reasonable likelihood of conviction. The case was expected to be in court for at least six weeks.

The Crown agreed to accept a guilty plea on only one of four charges. Some of the counts were based on the same factual background and would have involved double jeopardy if pursued, he said. "We probably would not have gotten a conviction on all four [counts]rdquo; he said.

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NDP critic Leonard Krog said the Danderfer case "struck at the heart of integrity in the public service." He said he would like the court to impose a severe sentence. "I want to see a message sent that the public service of British Columbia is not for sale," Mr. Krog said.

Mayland McKimm, Mr. Danderfer's lawyer, did not respond Tuesday to requests for an interview.

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