The B.C. government is launching two new investigations into money laundering, including one examining how the practice has infiltrated the province’s hot real estate market.
The reviews, announced Thursday, follow an earlier report that found lax oversight of casinos in the province had enabled large-scale transnational money laundering tied to the deadly trade in illicit opioids.
The first investigation, led by the Ministry of Finance, will look at “systemic risks” that leave the real estate and financial services sectors open to money laundering. It is to be chaired by Maureen Maloney, a law professor. The B.C. government promised to take action earlier this year after an investigation by The Globe and Mail revealed that people connected to the deadly fentanyl trade are parking their illicit gains in Vancouver-area real estate market through private lending schemes.
The second review, led by Attorney-General David Eby, will look at specific cases of questionable activity in real estate and other sectors and will be chaired by former RCMP deputy commissioner Peter German, who also chaired the earlier investigation into casinos.
“We are letting them know we will follow wherever they are attempting to launder their profits,” Mr. Eby said. “We must shut down new avenues for money laundering so that organized crime is less able find ways to launder money."
British Columbia has already seen a dramatic decrease in suspicious transactions in casinos as a result of crackdowns since the earlier report was released, but illicit money is likely to be laundered elsewhere, Mr. Eby said. “It’s essentially a game of whack-a-mole with money launderers," he said.
Mr. Eby said his office is working on legislation to follow up on Mr. German’s June report and there are two police investigations underway.
“There is good reason to believe the bulk cash we saw in casinos is a fraction of the cash generated through illicit activities that may be circulating in British Columbia’s economy," the Attorney-General said.
But, the two new reviews could leave the public wanting more, said Dermod Travis, executive director of IntegrityBC.
“They want to see people charged and crimes, according to what we have heard already, have been committed,” Mr. Travis said. “The one thing the government has missed in all this ... is re-establishing a [police] task force, giving it a very specific budget and saying its mandate is to lay charges," he said.
Also Thursday, the province released a review by independent consultant Dan Perrin on B.C.'s real estate regulatory structure.
The Perrin report found the system – brought in by the former Liberal government in 2016 after media reports and public outcry over unscrupulous practices in the sector – didn’t fix the problems and left the sector vulnerable to abuse.
“Now we have two independent reports suggesting our housing market could be used to launder money," Finance Minister Carole James said.
Mr. Perrin’s report “pointed out that our hot housing market and regulatory gaps have created opportunities for market manipulation with the potential for people to profit from questionable real estate activity," she said.
Ms. James said she is asking the federal government to continue working with the provinces on ensuring a co-ordinated approach to real estate regulation.