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Where is Ian Thow?
Financial fugitive may well be trying to negotiate a surrender to authorities in Canada


David Baines

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

It has been 79 days since B.C. prosecutors charged former Victoria investment executive Ian Thow with 25 counts of fraud, and he has still not been apprehended.

He is on the lam, most likely in the Pacific Northwest. But just because he is out of sight doesn't necessarily mean he is out of touch. He might very well be trying to negotiate his surrender to Canadian authorities.

Thow, formerly senior vice-president of Berkshire Investment Group, is accused of defrauding investors of some $10 million in a variety of bogus investment schemes. Although most of the victims were clients, the investments were not authorized by Berkshire and were transacted off-book, beyond the purview of Berkshire's compliance people. This enabled him to sustain his scheme until he resigned in May 2005.

The charges were laid on June 9 of this year, after a two-year investigation by the Vancouver RCMP Integrated Market Enforcement Team, and another year of fiddling by Crown prosecutors. However, the charges were not announced until June 26, some 17 days after being laid.

Charges are often laid but not publicly disclosed until the accused has been arrested and is in custody. When these charges were announced, however, Thow had not been arrested. He was nowhere to be seen. The RCMP refused to comment on the matter.

This struck me as strange. If Thow was on the run, you would expect the police to say, "We have charged this guy and issued a warrant for his arrest. If you see him, please call us."

But all we got was silence.

The mystery started to unravel for me last month when RCMP acting-Sgt. Sammy Wu made an offhand comment to the Victoria Times Colonist that may not have been so offhand: "We are still working with Crown to ensure his return," he said.

Why would RCMP be "working with Crown" to effect his return, unless Crown prosecutors were talking with Thow, or more likely his lawyer, about possible terms of surrender?

Unless Thow wants to be a fugitive for the rest of his life, which I doubt, his only option is to give himself up. So why not use the offer of surrender as a lever to negotiate the best possible terms, including a plea bargain?

For the police and the Crown, this would eliminate the need for a manhunt in the U.S. and, if and when he is caught, the need for extradition proceedings, which could be lengthy and expensive. Just as important, it would resolve the public angst and terrible optics of the RCMP being unable to bring him to justice.

On the other hand, RCMP might feel the optics of negotiating with somebody like Thow are even worse. They may also feel that they hold all the cards and Thow will soon realize that, unless he wants to spend the rest of his life on the run, he will have to give up on their terms.

dbaines@vancouversun.com

see: 

Ian Thow takes flight