November 28, 2016 7:39 pm

Saskatchewan auditor confirms police investigating GTH land deal

Brad Wall answers questions about the Global Transportation Hub on Nov. 28.

Adrian Raaber / Global News
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Police are investigating the government’s purchase of land near the Global Transportation Hub (GTH), just west of Regina, Saskatchewan’s provincial auditor said Monday.

Judy Ferguson told the Public Accounts Committee the audit into the GTH did not “conclusively state that there was no conflict of interest, fraud or wrongdoing with respect to these land transactions related to GTH.”

According to Ferguson, the office has not been asked to do a forensic audit but if it is asked to do so, it would not begin immediately.

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“We understand that there is a police investigation underway and the scope of the investigation does include the activities related to GTH’s acquisition of land from the private sector,” Ferguson said at the meeting.

“So our office would pause in terms of doing that in terms of it would result in a duplication of use of public resources to do that work.”

READ MORE: Province needs to do more to protect taxpayers in land deals: Provincial auditor

Global Transportation Hub, a Crown corporation, bought 41 acres of land at a cost of $1.2 million in February 2014 and in March 2014. The province completed the transaction by purchasing 204 acres of land west of Regina at a cost of $21 million.

Before GTH bought the land in late 2013 for $21 million, it was bought and sold numerous times at escalating prices

In June, Ferguson released a report saying she found no signs of conflicts of interest for any parties involved, including Minister Bill Boyd.

On Monday, Ferguson said the auditor’s office was concerned that its finding that “the audit did not find evidence of conflict of interest, indications of fraud, or wrongdoing by GTH management or the board of directors,” has not been well understood and overshadowed the audit conclusion.

Ferguson reiterated her office did not do a forensic audit or audit the activities of private sector individuals or corporations.

Rather, Ferguson said the GTH audit focused on GTH processes to acquire land.

“The purpose of the audit was not to accuse or vindicate individuals or entities involved in specific land transactions as may have been the purpose of a forensic audit,” Ferguson said at the committee meeting.

Opposition Leader Trent Wotherspoon said the premier has been misrepresenting Ferguson’s report by using a line from a news release on the audit that “isn’t at the heart of the conclusions of the auditor.”

“We have a government that clearly has been hiding from answering the key questions that the Saskatchewan people deserve answers to,” Wotherspoon said.

“It’s embarrassing, it’s disrespectful to Saskatchewan people.”

Wotherspoon said the NDP also learned about the investigation Monday and criticized the government for suggesting the auditor would not do a forensic audit when she said she would pause on taking it on.

Premier Brad Wall said the government has been quoting exactly what Ferguson said in the press release.

“I also would point out today in her testimony, as I said in the House, that she follows generally-accepted accounting standards when completing the audit and those include and require her to be on the lookout for fraud risks,” Wall said.

“If there’s a fraud risk, the auditor’s going to have to act. The auditor would have to report, or at least ask for other permission – maybe even for permission to do a forensic audit to deal with these risks.”

Wall said police are investigating because someone made a complaint to the RCMP.

“This was reported in August,” Wall said.

“There’s been a complaint made to the RCMP, that’s my understanding, maybe more than one, I don’t know. The RCMP are going to investigate I assume.”

Wall said Ferguson’s report is full and complete.

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