The RCMP has concluded there is no evidence to lay criminal charges in the controversial land deal involving the Global Transportation Hub (GTH).
The investigation the RCMP described as “highly complex” has wrapped up after two years.
Superintendent Paul Saganski explained the investigation focused on offences related to fraud, public mischief and corruption, but found no evidence of any crime.
Saganski said it was a meticulous investigation with thousands of documents examined.
Justice Minister Don Morgan said after the extensive RCMP investigation, the provincial government doesn’t feel any further inquiry is necessary.
“We’re prepared, at this point in time, to accept at this time that the 7,500 hours of work the RCMP did would indicate it would be time to turn the page,” he told reporters in Saskatoon Wednesday afternoon.
He noted the government has accepted findings from the provincial auditor that officials took too long to acquire land for the GTH, allowing time for speculators to move in and increase the purchase price of the necessary plots.
“There were certainly mistakes made in our government’s handling of this matter,” he said.
“The province … did a poor job of assembling the land, we certainly concede that.”
Morgan added the province is now looking to divest its multi-million dollar stake in the project, saying it’s “probably not a business the government should have been involved in.”
However, he said time would be taken to ensure maximum value.
“We don’t want to have a fire sale or do something that’s going to diminish the value of it further,” he said.
Despite the RCMP not pursuing charges, NDP associate critic for the economy Trent Wotherspoon said the government still needs to provide answers to people within Saskatchewan.
“Just because criminal charges aren’t being laid here today doesn’t make how this was handled right,” Wotherspoon said. He added thanks the RCMP for the work they’ve done during the investigation.
He said millions of dollars have been wasted and taxpayers have been “ripped off”.
“Government has been anything but forthright, in fact, they’ve been dishonest along the way.”
Wotherspoon said the government selling off the GTH is another distraction away from the handling of it.
“This is a government that’s mismanaged this project, hasn’t been honest with Saskatchewan people, haven’t even come clean about the millions of dollars put into this mismanaged project.”
He said a full public value analysis of money will need to be done.
While Morgan said a judicial inquiry isn’t necessary, Wotherspoon said one should be pushed for.
Timeline of GTH land deal controversy
In 2015, the province had the Global Transportation Hub (GTH) buy 204 acres of land west of Regina to be used for the hub and for the Regina bypass. The land changed hands three times between March 2012 and April 2014 before the GTH bought it for $103,000 per acre, which added up to about $21 million. The Ministry of Highways then bought the land from the Crown Corp, GTH, for as much as $65,000 per acre for one package, and $50,000 for another.
Nearby land was being sold for $9,000 to $23,000 at the time, while the NDP said the government appraised the land at $35,000.
The situation prompted calls by the NDP opposition for a provincial audit and full investigation.
Former Saskatchewan Party MLA and minister responsible for the GTH, Bill Boyd released a letter from the conflict of interest commissioner stating there was no conflict of interest, despite the fact his seed company had former business dealings with the original buyer of the land, Robert Tappauf. Boyd said he had never met Tappauf.
In February 2016, former premier Brad Wall asked the provincial auditor to open an investigation into the controversial GTH land deal.
Provincial Auditor Judy Ferguson released her report into the matter in June 2016 concluding “the audit did not find evidence of conflicts of interest, or indications of fraud or wrongdoing.” The report did highlight a long list of mismanagement and lack of processes in the sale.
The NDP questioned the scope of the audit, which found there may have been a breach of cabinet confidentiality while the land deal was being negotiated.
The RCMP began looking into the GTH land deal in November 2016.
— With files from 650 CKOM’s Chris Vandenbreekel and CJME’s Britton Gray