British Columbia’s Attorney-General says the continuing battle against money laundering has been dealt a serious blow after criminal charges were stayed in a high-profile case he calls the largest in B.C. history.
David Eby said he is launching a review to figure out what went wrong. At issue was an RCMP investigation called Project E-Pirate, which the Mounties said Wednesday focused on an organized crime group believed to be laundering large amounts of cash through British Columbia casinos.
Charges were laid in 2017 against a B.C. company and two principal operators.
“I am incredibly disappointed by the news,” Mr. Eby told a news conference on Wednesday, adding he is also looking for a discussion with Bill Blair, the federal Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, to review the matter.
"This was, I understand, the largest or one of the largest money-laundering prosecutions in B.C history and, perhaps, Canadian history. To have it fail is, I think, very devastating for all of us who are trying to get dirty money out of our economy,” he said.
According to the RCMP statement from Staff-Sergeant Tania Vaughan, the charges were stayed following a joint decision by the Mounties and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada for several reasons that police will not disclose.
“The RCMP is conducting a full-scale review to understand its activities, which contributed to this stay, and will incorporate relevant lessons learned into its investigative practices and processes where necessary,” Ms. Vaughan’s statement said.
The force remains committed to combating money laundering and financial crime and working to prevent a similar situation in future, Ms. Vaughan wrote.
In a separate statement, Nathalie Houle, media relations adviser for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, said the decision was consistent with a service policy of staying charges if there is no reasonable prospect of conviction based on evidence likely to be available at trial and a conclusion that a prosecution would not serve the public interest.
Ms. Houle did not elaborate.
Mr. Eby said he was not blaming police, federal prosecutors or the federal government for the collapse of the case. But he said it is clear that something went “terribly wrong" and it is important to determine why it is a challenge to successfully prosecute such activities.
“I think it is urgent. I think it is a crisis for our province. I think it is a matter of concern across the province and across the country increasingly. And it is a disturbing signal that a prosecution of this magnitude collapses shortly before going to trial,” he said. “We all need to work together to figure out how to fix this problem.”
As he spoke to the media, Mr. Eby said that he had yet to receive a briefing from federal officials on why the case failed. He said he was especially interested in whether there was a provincial role in the situation.
In June, the government released a report by Peter German – a former deputy commissioner of the RCMP and Correctional Service Canada – on money laundering in B.C. casinos. Mr. German found that the province’s dysfunctional regulatory regime for casinos has enabled large-scale transnational money laundering by organized crime that is tied to the trade in opioids.
In that report, Mr. German warned that the supposed Vancouver model of money laundering, which took advantage of a quarrel among agencies that hindered oversight, threatens to seep into other sectors of the economy.
Since then, Mr. German has embarked on a new probe into money laundering, looking into private lenders' use of Vancouver-area real estate to hide drug money, a tactic uncovered in a Globe and Mail investigation. The scope of the new review by Mr. German includes real estate, horse racing and luxury cars.
Mr. Eby said that given the situation, he was worried about public confidence in the justice system. “That’s why I believe this is a crisis that required urgent federal-provincial co-operation.”