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RCMP officers escort a female suspect in a money laundering network off an airplane in St-Hubert, Que. on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

The RCMP and other police forces arrested 15 people on Monday in a series of raids in Montreal and Toronto targeting what investigators say is an extensive international money-laundering network with ties to organized crime.

The RCMP, working with the Canada Revenue Agency, began the probe dubbed “Collector” in 2016 and wrapped it up last spring before launching raids Monday at around 6 a.m. More than 300 RCMP officers in Ontario and Quebec took part in Monday’s operation, aided by officers from the Montreal, Laval, Que., and Toronto police forces.

RCMP Corporal Genevieve Byrne said the raids – which involved 11 search warrants in Montreal and Toronto – continued throughout the day. Cpl. Byrne said the warrants target 19 people, but only 15 had been arrested.

The four others being sought are Victor Vargotskii, 56, of Montreal, Mohamad Jaber, 51, of Laval, Frederick Rayman, 71, of Toronto and Francisco Javier Jimenez Guerrero, 35, whose place of residence is not known.

RCMP Sergeant Luc Thibault said Monday’s operation “targets individuals who facilitated the collection of money from criminal groups in Montreal and laundered the proceeds of their illicit activities.” He said in an interview that most of the money was drug-related, but would not give details about the network’s operations.

Sgt. Thibault also declined to say what other countries were involved in the network or where the allegedly laundered money ended up. The RCMP have scheduled a news conference to provide more details on Tuesday in Montreal.

Sgt. Thibault said the suspects arrested on Monday were transported for detention in Laval, just north of Montreal. An RCMP plane landed around 10:15 a.m. at the St-Hubert airport in the Montreal suburb of Longueuil carrying several suspects arrested in the Toronto area. The remaining people arrested in Ontario were expected to be brought to Laval later in the day.

Police seized large quantities of cannabis, cocaine and methamphetamine and $1.7-million in Canadian and foreign currency. Sgt. Thibault said the Canada Revenue Agency seized properties “owned by network members” valued at $15-million.

The RCMP are not releasing the names of the suspects arrested Monday, but said they will likely face charges including conspiracy, trafficking and laundering the proceeds of crime.

The RCMP estimate that between $5-billion and $15-billion is laundered every year in Canada, but International Monetary Fund figures suggest the problem is much larger.

“If we extrapolate [from international figures] for Canada, it could be a $100-billion problem,” said Denis Meunier, a former senior executive with the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada who now works as a consultant.

He said tactics for covering the traces of illicit funds are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

“They use lawyers and accountants to create shell companies, limited companies. And then these companies are multiplied,” Mr. Meunier said. Ownership becomes harder to track with each new layer added, making it hard for investigators to identify who is responsible.

A report published last year by an international organization combatting money laundering revealed that criminal groups were laundering $1-billion a year in British Columbia through legal and illegal casinos. Mr. Meunier said the situation is no better elsewhere in Canada.

“If the governments don’t take their heads out of the sand, it is going to continue, and it is going to get even worse in all cities,” he said.

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