CANADA

A garden of fantasy

Vander Zalm is cleared of criminal charges

HAL QUINN July 6 1992
CANADA

A garden of fantasy

Vander Zalm is cleared of criminal charges

HAL QUINN July 6 1992

A garden of fantasy

CANADA

Vander Zalm is cleared of criminal charges

Right to the end, there was a stranger-than-fantasy quality about the whole affair. From the time of his election as leader of the Social Credit party in July, 1986, to his resignation in disgrace as B.C. premier 4½ years later, William Vander Zalm, 58, was the focus of political scandals—and incredulity. And sharing the spotlight in the drama that finally forced him from office—the controversial $ 16-million sale of his biblical theme park, Fantasy Gardens—was flamboyant real estate agent Faye Leung, who brokered the deal. Last week, after B.C.

Supreme Court Justice David Campbell found Vander Zalm not guilty of criminal breach of trust involving the sale,

Leung and the former premier nearly crossed paths again. As Vander Zalm emerged from the north side of the Vancouver courthouse, a black Rolls-Royce limousine pulled up at the south entrance. Climbing out of the rented splendor, wearing one of her trademark gaudy hats—peaked, with multicolored sparkles set off by a pink flower—Leung asked reporters: “Oh, is it all over? I’m late then. Tell me all about it.”

Apart from the verdict itself, Leung knew the rest of the story intimately. It was her version of the September, 1990, Fantasy Gardens sale to Taiwanese businessman Tan Yu that eventually ended Vander Zalm’s premiership—and brought the pair to the courthouse during the trial and again last week.

When Leung filed papers in an unrelated court case that revealed Vander Zalm’s direct involvement in the sale, the province’s conflict-of-interest commissioner, Edward Hughes, investigated. Hughes found—with the help of taped telephone conversations between Leung and Vander Zalm—that the premier had violated his government’s conflict-of-interest guidelines in the sale. As a result, Vander Zalm resigned in April, 1991; five months later, he was charged with criminal breach of trust.

In finding Vander Zalm not guilty, Justice Campbell ruled that the crown had not proved its case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But Campbell pointedly added that the former premier’s imputed activities might be considered “foolish, ill-advised and in apparent or real conflict of interest or breach of ethics.” Vander Zalm’s lawyer, Peter Butler, who called no defence witnesses at the trial, said that there was insufficient evidence to lay charges. “It was a defence lawyer’s dream,” Butler added. “I could have sat there and done nothing.”

On the courthouse steps, Leung revealed the real purpose of her visit—publicizing the T-shirts and audiotapes that she is now selling. The T-shirts depict a caricature of Vander Zalm spread-eagled and attached to Leung’s hat. The wording on the shirts reads, “Zalm bam, thank you ma’am.” The tapes are copies of her telephone conversation with Vander Zalm, which Leung described as “part of Canadian history, and probably world-famous.” Leung is currently suing the former premier over allegedly unpaid commissions in connection with the Fantasy Gardens sale. At the same time, Leung has faced a lawsuit from investors in a failed project that she launched. Those investors claimed that Leung should get the commission— so that they, in turn, could recover the money they say Leung owes them. Last ^ week, in a ruling in that case, i B.C. Supreme Court Justice £ Ian Donald said that Vander 1 Zalm did indeed owe Leung at " least the first instalment on the payment for selling Fantasy Gardens—$180,000. Donald also accused Vander Zalm of trying to use the courts to avoid paying Leung. Coming only one day after the former premier’s acquittal on the breach-of-trust charge, Donald’s ruling indicated that the Fantasy Gardens saga may still be a few chapters short.

HAL QUINN in Vancouver