B.C.'s Attorney-General says a lack of federal resources for investigating money-laundering is masking the full extent of the problem as he pushes for Ottawa and the RCMP to allocate more resources to crack down on financial crime in the province.
David Eby doubts the capacity of federal agencies to investigate the hundreds of millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains being laundered through the province’s casinos and its real estate sector, given the recent collapse of two large federal criminal cases.
Mr. Eby responded in a phone interview Tuesday to recent revelations of a civil-forfeiture claim alleging $220-million a year was being laundered through a Richmond, B.C., business, which had a federal criminal case against it and its two owners dropped at the end of last November without explanation from the federal Crown or RCMP. A separate criminal proceeding was dropped on Dec. 4 against two Richmond residents accused of trafficking thousands of pills of fentanyl and importing cocaine.
“The stays are one piece, but the concern that I have are the investigations that aren’t even being done," Mr. Eby said. “It seems to me that a very small percentage of what should be investigated is being investigated because of [a lack of] resources.
“And then, those cases that are investigated appear to be having trouble getting to court and getting convictions.”
He said he is hopeful that Ottawa and the RCMP will increase their funding to tackle the issue after recent positive conversations with both federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Bill Blair, Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction. In the meantime, he said former RCMP deputy commissioner Peter German, who also chaired an earlier investigation into money-laundering at B.C.'s casinos, is investigating possible federal and provincial tools to tackle the money-laundering in B.C.'s real estate, luxury car and horse racing sectors.
Until more tools and resources become available, Mr. Eby, who once criticized B.C.'s use of civil forfeiture as a civil-rights lawyer before getting into politics, said the tactic is appropriate.
The civil-forfeiture agency, which does not need a criminal conviction or even charges to pursue a file, is attempting to seize a $2.5-million Vancouver home and $2-million in cash from a pair accused of running a massive casino money-laundering operation at their business, Silver International.
“Civil forfeiture will never be a full answer to organized crime, but it will become, essentially, the cost of doing business," Mr. Eby said.
Court documents filed last week to support a continuing civil-forfeiture case against the operators of Silver International have revealed the massive scope of the international criminal activity, he said.
“The fact that we recently believe just one operation alone was laundering hundreds of millions of dollars a year through a tiny storefront and now apparently with impunity – because there are no criminal charges – should be a wake up call to everybody,” he said.
The couple allegedly running a massive Richmond-based money-laundering operation that recently had criminal charges dropped against them allegedly washed more than $200-million a year for a host of violent local drug dealers as well as clients in China and the capital cities of Mexico and Colombia, according to a new police affidavit filed in a continuing civil-forfeiture case against the pair.
Melvin Chizawsky, a veteran corporal with the RCMP’s Federal Serious Organized Crime unit, said the investigation he helped lead indicated that cellphone data discovered after the 2015 raids of Silver International and various properties connected to its owners, Caixuan Qin and Jian Ju Zhu, found these international connections, according to his affidavit filed last week in B.C. Supreme Court.
“Mr. Zhu and Ms. Qin had access to cash pools in numerous other locations, aside from China, including Mexico City and Bogota in Colombia,” his 331-page affidavit states.
None of these allegations have been proven in court and neither Ms. Qin, Mr. Zhu nor Silver International have yet filed a response.
Matthew Nathanson, their lawyer, told The Globe and Mail Tuesday that the authorities have failed to prove much with regard to his clients.
“All the criminal charges against my clients were stayed," he wrote in an e-mailed statement. "None of the assertions made in the civil forfeiture pleadings have been tested in any way, much less proven. They should not be reported as if they are facts. They are not.”
In the other organized-crime case that collapsed, last month federal prosecutors dropped charges against Yan Chau “Andrew” Lam and Gertrude Cheong who were charged in 2017 in relation to a bust of 132 kilograms of cocaine after a container shipment from Brazil was flagged by American authorities at Los Angeles’ port before getting seized in Vancouver. At the time, the RCMP heralded the work of their investigators and international partner agencies as stopping the cocaine and 40,000 seized fentanyl pills from reaching communities across B.C. and the rest of Canada.
The Public Prosecution Service of Canada has said the trial was abandoned after Crown counsel considered two issues: whether there was a reasonable chance of conviction and if the prosecution best served the public interest.