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Robert Read sanctioned for good investigation

Immigration graft probe a 'shock'

Previously secret documents divulged before an RCMP disciplinary tribunal last month throw fresh light on a controversial investigation into suspected corruption at Canada's diplomatic mission in Hong Kong.

Robert Read

A Mountie who investigated suspected graft at Canada's diplomatic mission in Hong Kong was "shocked beyond belief" that Immigration Canada tried to bury the issue, according to previously secret documents filed as exhibits at a recent hearing in Ottawa.

The documents show that Mounties had prepared criminal charges alleging members of the staff of the mission had been given gambling money by wealthy Chinese families suspected of seeking access to visas for Canada.

But at a meeting of senior bureaucrats from the RCMP, External Affairs, Immigration Canada and the Justice Department in December of 1999 it was decided to conduct an internal hearing and no charges were laid.

Some of those under investigation, whose names have been ordered to be kept secret, have since gone on to become senior government officials after only minor reprimands.

RCMP Cpl. Robert Read, who initially investigated events at the mission, was accused of violating his oath of secrecy after he made his views public in interviews with The Province in the summer of 1999.

Read, 57, was charged with disgraceful conduct, suspended with pay and ordered to appear before a three-man RCMP Tribunal.

The tribunal will decide Tuesday whether the whistleblower, a 24-year-veteran, is to be dimissed without a pension.

Two documents presented during the two-week hearing, which ended last month, show that the Mounties who took over Read's file were deeply upset by the conclusions of the inquiry, conducted for Immigration Canada in March 2000 by Ercel Baker, an Ottawa-based consultant.

Immigration Canada was eager to get the RCMP's stamp of approval on Baker's report.

But in a memo written July 12, 2000, Sgt. Sergio Pasin wrote: "Shocked beyond belief and utterly disturbed by the report, are the kindest words I can express on my views of the outcome of this so called [Immigration Canada's] Administrative Investigation."

Pasin said it was his opinion that "very little time" had been spent investigating and "more [time] finding excuses for actions taken by those being investigated."

Pasin wrote:" I do not believe that the investigation he [Baker] conducted was without constraint based on his findings."

He questioned Baker's belief that members of the Canadian mission invited to the racetrack where money was being handed out for betting purposes were not expecting to return a favour.

Pasin questioned how Baker could make such a statement given evidence which indicated that the Pong family which provided the gambling money to mission staff had made several calls to the mission's Immigration section with the aim of securing Canadian visas.

Paul Jolicoeur, a second Mountie on the case, wrote of Baker's report: "It would appear in the end these [Immigration Canada] managers will be assessed as 'misguided and naive' in the handling of the situation, which is a far cry from the fact we had criminal charges pending but never laid due to the 'unlikelihood' of a successful prosecution."

The RCMP finally refused to endorse the Baker report to Immigration Canada.

In his memo, Jolicoeur compared what he called Immigration Canada's "carpet-sweeping approach" with its reponse to a major security breach in 1996 when Tong Sang Lai, whom police say is a known gang leader, entered Canada via its Los Angeles office.

Lai ended up in Vancouver, even though two years earlier he had been refused a visa to Canada because of suspected crime links.

Immigration named Joe Bissett, a former ambassador, to investigate. Bissett found the breach was an isolated slip by honest, overworked employees.

"I found no evidence of malfeasance, corruption, fraud or criminal activity of any kind on the part of Immigration employees there," he wrote.

Although an RCMP investigation uncovered widespread security problems at the consulate in Los Angeles, the senior Immigration officer, whom Mounties identified as one of the sources for the troubles, has since been promoted.

Rival gangsters failed in an attempt to kill Tong Sang Lai shortly after he arrived in Vancouver. He remains a resident of Richmond.

Among the 100 exhibits presented to the RCMP tribunal is a 1996 briefing note written by the head of the RCMP's Immigration and Passport section in Ottawa, Jean Dube.

It refers to two Immigration Canada officers sent to Hong Kong to investigate Lawrence Leung, then director of Hong Kong Immigration.

The investigators wanted to know whether Leung was using contacts in the Canadian diplomatic mission to help Chinese spies come to Canada.

Leung abruptly resigned his job in July 1996, by which time his family had migrated to Vancouver.

Three years earlier, his 22-year-old daughter, Silvia, had been killed by an arrow fired from a crossbow in a B.C. Institute of Technology parking lot in Burnaby. The case is unsolved, despite a $300,000 reward.

Another document given to the tribunal describes a lunch meeting between Leung and Triad-connected businessmen in Hong Kong. Leung has denied any Triad connections.

Yet another document shows that another Mountie had doubts about the success of an investigation into the suspected graft at the Hong Kong mission.

Written by RCMP liaison officer R.G. Lagimodiere in 1994, it refers to the Pong family, a wealthy Chinese steel dynasty, which had given gambling money to several Canadian diplomatic staff at the Happy Valley horse-racing track.

"No co-operation can be expected from the Pong family," wrote Lagimodiere.

Lagimodiere also wrote that the head of the Hong Kong mission "has had a tough year" and "will no doubt view this as an RCMP witch hunt . . . I can guarantee he will be screaming [at] the highest political levels."

Another document, signed by Garry Clement, now a superintendent with the RCMP's Integrated Proceeds of Crime Unit in Ottawa, paints a disturbing picture of Hong Kong during the period running up to its handover to China in 1997.

"In Hong Kong, it is a way of life for the legitimate Hong Kong society and the Triads to ingratiate themselves with charitable organizations, foreign missions and government officials," Clement wrote.

Citing examples of Triad attempts to make connections with Canadian politicians, Clement states that the then-premier of B.C., Mike Harcourt, "was hosted by a known Triad associate, Henry Fok, whose son was arrested in the United States for arms smuggling."

In another example, Clement wrote that the then-mayor of Vancouver and current B.C. premier, Gordon Campbell, was photographed in the early 1990s with the son of a Hong Kong politician, who was identified as ruling council member of the notorious Sun Yee Onn Triad -- one of the world's largest heroin traffickers.

Clement also pointed out that Macau casino king Stanley Ho and Hong Kong tycoon Cheng Yu Tung, both of whom have extensive business and property holdings in Vancouver, were often guests of the Canadian mission.

Both Ho and Cheng have denied any links to Triads.

The tribunal also learned that the extent of security problems associated with Immigration's computer system in Hong Kong may have been minimized.

David Balser a former government computer analyst, was sent to Hong Kong in 1992 to investigate alleged tampering with the system. But Mounties said his subsequent report failed to describe the full extent of the problem.

After Read paid him a visit later, Balser said he could provide a better recollection of his Hong Kong investigation if he could re-access security files.

Balser was told not to co-operate with the Mountie, but in a letter to his bosses he said he could have provided a "more accurate statement" which would also be "more damaging to Immigration Canada and by reflection the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade."

Immigration Minister Denis Coderre was invited last week to comment on the various documents before the tribunal, but he declined.

For his role in the affair, whistle-blower Read, a father of two, has gone through a personal hell. After he went public in 1999, the RCMP ordered an administrative review of his file. It found no substance to his allegations of a coverup, although it found that the original investigators were sloppy and that Immigration Canada had not fixed security problems identified eight years earlier.

Last November, more than two years after he was suspended, the tribunal began hearings against Read. RCMP prosecutor Brian Radford said Read had been looking to pick a fight and that his employers had the right to remove him. "Cpl. Read . . . simply did not have the investigative abilities to carry out an investigation of this importance and difficulty," he said.

Lawyer David Yazbeck, who represents Read, said that for an employer to fire an employee, the employer must come with clean hands. "If you look at this record, the employer had dirty hands," he said.

"In order to find Read guilty," Yazbeck told the tribunal, "you have to show that the public has no business knowing about this investigation."