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Commissioner Austin Cullen, back left, listens to introductions before opening statements at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia, in Vancouver on Feb. 24, 2020.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

The former commander of an RCMP gambling unit says British Columbia’s solicitor-general told him in 2009 the provincial Liberal government of the day did not want to crack down on organized crime in casinos because it would dampen a massive source of provincial revenue.

Retired RCMP officer Fred Pinnock testified at the Cullen Commission on Thursday that, during a private lunch in Victoria, Kash Heed, the then-minister of public safety and solicitor-general, told him his cabinet colleague in charge of the gambling portfolio was uninterested in investigating reports of sophisticated criminals using licensed casinos to launder their ill-gotten gains.

“He told me ‘It’s all about the money,’” Mr. Pinnock said during the virtual hearing into money laundering on Canada’s West Coast.

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Mr. Pinnock alleged that Mr. Heed said this hands-off approach was decided by the previous solicitor-general, Rich Coleman, a long-time Liberal politician and former deputy premier, in concert with several top Mounties in the province.

Under cross-examination, Mr. Pinnock told the commission he did not take notes or record his 2009 conversation with Mr. Heed, but said he followed up in July of 2018 to “secure and preserve” this evidence during a phone call with Mr. Heed that he surreptitiously recorded.

Some months before that 2009 lunch with Mr. Heed, Mr. Pinnock said he had asked his girlfriend at the time, Naomi Yamamoto, a newly elected Liberal MLA, to ask Mr. Coleman, a former police officer, about crime in casinos at their next caucus meeting and set up a briefing with Mr. Pinnock about the issue.

Ms. Yamamoto, now married to Mr. Pinnock, did so and received a fiery refusal from Mr. Coleman, Mr. Pinnock testified.

“She told me that it was in a group setting and she described his reaction as brutal and dismissive and embarrassing to her,” Mr. Pinnock said. “My conclusion from that is he did not want to see or be told [about the problems in casinos].”

Mr. Coleman, who retired from 24 years in provincial politics this year, did not respond to a voicemail on his cellphone requesting immediate comment Thursday afternoon. Mr. Heed, a former police officer who now consults in various industries, declined to comment Thursday other than telling The Globe and Mail: "I’m concerned with the evidence that Mr. Pinnock has given.”

Senior commission counsel confirmed that Mr. Heed will be called to testify some time in the new year. It is unknown whether Mr. Coleman or the trio of senior Mounties Mr. Pinnock called his “puppets” will testify.

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Mr. Pinnock ran the RCMP’s illegal gambling enforcement team for two years until he went on medical leave in December of 2007 and retired soon afterward, exasperated, he said, at the lack of support from higher-ups in tackling higher-level casino crime.

Mr. Pinnock testified Thursday that the official mandate of his specialized unit included investigating organized criminals operating in casinos. But, he said, the board overseeing his squad put pressure on him to focus primarily on the mid-level cases involving illegal lotteries, bingo halls, pyramid schemes and slot machines.

“I detected a significant enforcement gap and lack of legal presence in casinos,” he said.

His unit would be disbanded in 2009, a move Mr. Coleman said was made because it was inefficient, redundant and had high staff turnover.

Last week at the commission hearings, another former Mountie in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond testified that his superiors and the municipal politicians in charge of funding decisions for the detachment did not approve a proposal to form a four-officer unit to tackle a crime wave tied to the River Rock Casino opening in 2004.

The provincial NDP government called the inquiry last May after three independent money-laundering reviews, including two by former deputy commissioner of the RCMP Peter German.

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Mr. German wrote of a “Vancouver model” of money laundering – a term created by an Australian professor that includes a dynamic in which money is laundered from Vancouver into and out of China and to other locations, including Mexico and Colombia. Mr. German concluded: “High rollers from China facilitate the flight of capital from China using Canadian casinos, junket operations and investment in Canadian real estate.”

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen is leading the commission and has the power to compel witnesses to testify and order the disclosure of evidence. He is also expected to weigh in on the ways in which police are hamstrung in investigating this sophisticated crime.

At the start of this year, B.C. Attorney-General David Eby made it plain that a key objective of the money-laundering inquiry is to look into whether or how the former Liberal government let B.C. become a hotbed for transnational money laundering.

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