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HindustanTimes Mon,20 Oct 2014

Alleged Vancouver real-estate fraudster seeks to withdraw guilty plea

VANCOUVER DESI  Canada, January 12, 2014
First Published: 13:52 IST(12/1/2014) | Last Updated: 13:59 IST(12/1/2014)

A former real-estate developer whose high-profile mortgage fraud case has been dragged out for years suffered from depression and anxiety when he entered guilty pleas last year, court heard Thursday.

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Tarsem Singh Gill’s decision-making at the time of the pleas to two counts of fraud was impaired due to his mental health issues, a psychologist retained by Gill testified.

The assessment of Gill by Dr Hugues Herve came during an application filed by Gill to withdraw his guilty pleas in the $40 million fraud that involved dozens of Lower Mainland home purchases.

Herve said that in the months leading up to the guilty pleas in May last year, Gill was suicidal and had written a suicide note that was discovered by his wife, who intervened to stop him from jumping off a bridge.

Gill had a major depressive disorder and suffered from anxiety, Herve concluded in his report on the accused.

Gill explained to Herve that at the time of the pleas, his then-lawyer told him that he had “zero” chance if the case went to trial, his son had left him and he felt demoralized, court heard.

Kevin McCullough, Gill’s lawyer, earlier told B.C. Supreme Court Justice Terry Schultes that Herve was not being called to suggest that Gill was mentally unfit at the time of the pleas.

He said that the evidence was being called to provide the court with an understanding of Gill’s mental state and explain why someone would enter a guilty plea when they otherwise wouldn’t want to do so.

McCullough, who is Gill’s fifth lawyer in the case, added that at the time of the pleas, Gill was not admitting to the essential elements of the offences to which he had pleaded guilty to.

Under cross-examination, Crown counsel Kevin Gillett pointed out that Gill had portrayed himself to Herve as someone who was free of common shortcomings and quite reluctant to admit minor faults.

Under Gillett’s questioning, Herve admitted that Gill had not detailed the consequences of the fraud during his interview with him.

Gillett asked Herve whether Gill ever gave any insight into why he was charged.

The application is expected to resume by Jan 22 or 23, with several more witnesses including Gill expected to testify for the defence.

The guilty pleas ended a much-delayed court case that saw Gill initially charged in 2008 after a six-year police investigation into a fraudulent scheme involving home purchases dating back more than 12 years.

Gill fired his first two lawyers. His third lawyer withdrew from the case. He re-elected to be tried by judge alone instead of a jury. He entered the guilty pleas with his fourth lawyer by his side.

His co-accused, former lawyer Martin Wirick, pleaded guilty in June 2009 and received a seven-year jail term. He was also disbarred. The scam involved the biggest legal fraud in Canadian history.

During Wirick’s sentencing, court heard that Wirick acted as Gill’s solicitor and, from 1999 to 2002, misdirected money from Gill-related real-estate transactions.

Instead of paying off mortgages and liens on properties that unsuspecting people thought they were buying, Wirick funnelled the money to Gill or his numbered companies.

The mortgages on the homes remained. The owners of 77 different properties were affected.

After the scam was discovered, the Law Society of B.C. paid out $38.4 million to defrauded claimants after more than doubling assessment fees paid by all lawyers into a compensation fund.

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