The senior RCMP intelligence official charged with breaching Canada’s official secrets law oversaw a money-laundering probe into allegations that millions in defrauded Russian tax dollars, exposed by Sergei Magnitsky, were funneled through Canada.
Cameron Jay Ortis, charged by the RCMP this week with illegally storing and communicating classified information, was working on the case as recently as August, U.S.-born financier and anti-Putin campaigner Bill Browder confirmed to The Globe and Mail Saturday. Mr. Browder and his legal team met with Mr. Ortis on February 7, 2017 and have been in touch with him since in an effort to get the RCMP to open an investigation into allegations that more than $14-million in Russian fraud proceeds were tied to Canada.
Mr. Browder said his team was trying to set up a second meeting with Mr. Ortis, director-general of the RCMP’s National Intelligence Coordination Centre, this fall to discuss the case. When he heard about Mr. Ortis’ arrest Friday, Mr. Browder said was in “complete shock.”
“He seems like the last person one would expect to be a spy for a foreign country,” Mr. Browder told The Globe and Mail in an exclusive interview from London.
The RCMP did not respond to a request for comment about the nature of Mr. Ortis’ work on the Russian tax-fraud allegations.
The money Mr. Browder is asking the RMCP to look into is part of a $230-million tax fraud scheme uncovered by Mr. Magnitsky, who was hired by Mr. Browder in 2005 to track down the stolen funds. Mr. Magnitsky was beaten to death by Moscow prison staff in 2009 after accusing Russian officials of theft in matter.
Mr. Ortis was joined by several Canadian officials when he met with Mr. Browder and his team at RCMP headquarters in Ottawa in 2017 to discuss the 440-page money-laundering complaint filed to the RCMP. Mr. Browder said he handed over 1,000 pages worth of evidence during that meeting.
Mr. Browder, who has faced numerous threats to his life for his anti-Putin work, said Mr. Ortis was also in charge of his security travelling in and out of Canada during his visit to Canada.
“He seemed to be a highly competent, intelligent, reasonable man. There was absolutely nothing unusual at all. He made a good impression as a professional,” Mr. Browder said of the 2017 meeting.
Although the details of the allegations against Mr. Ortis have not been released, Mr. Browder says the RCMP has some explaining to do.
“Given what’s happened, the RCMP has a duty to sit down with us in a very transparent manner and go through where they are in the money laundering investigation and where they want to be so that we don’t have any fear that the investigation has been compromised,” Mr. Browder said
Mr. Browder originally filed the complaint with the RCMP on October 21, 2016. The Mounties have not opened a formal investigation into the matter.
Mr. Browder has led the international effort to sanction human-rights abusers worldwide, in memory of Mr. Magnitsky. Canada introduced its own version of the Magnitsky Act in 2017 and has since used it to issue sanctions against 70 people, including dozens of Russian officials.
Mr. Ortis’ arrest Thursday raised fears of a massive security breach at the national police force that stands to affect the operations of law-enforcement agencies in Canada and around the world. The 47-year-old faces seven charges under the Security of Information Act and the Criminal Code in relation to alleged infractions between 2015 and 2019. He appeared in court on Friday.
According to documents filed in court, he is charged under the act with obtaining and preparing information for the purpose of communication with a foreign entity or terrorist group, and communicating or confirming “special operational information” to an unspecified entity or individual. He is also charged under the Criminal Code with breach of trust.
Paul Evans, a University of British Columbia professor who served on the doctoral dissertations committee for Mr. Ortis’ PhD thesis and wrote a pair of essays with him, said on Saturday that the accused is a “very fine Canadian” and that it is difficult to believe he is guilty of the charges against him.
“Nothing in my experience with Cameron would lead me to suspect he would be (in) any way involved in activities that would lead to such charges,” Mr. Evans said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.
Mr. Evans said he had seen Mr. Ortis socially in recent years after Mr. Ortis began working in Ottawa.
“He did not discuss the details of his work and throughout was an exemplar of discretion and integrity in our interactions.”
The professor in the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, a teacher of Asian and trans-Pacific Affair, said Friday’s news of legal proceedings against Mr. Ortis was a surprise.
“Like others who knew him well, I was shocked by the news of the arrest of a very fine Canadian.”
With a file from Ian Bailey
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Sergei Magnitsky as a tax lawyer.
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