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British Columbia B.C. operation laundered massive amounts of cash, court documents say

A woman arrives at a storefront in Richmond, B.C., on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. The RCMP raided the location in 2015 when it housed the business Style Travel.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

The B.C. couple that recently had their high-profile money-laundering case dropped by the Crown was allegedly washing $220-million a year for criminals, including an international cocaine trafficker associated with a transnational gang, according to new court documents.

The documents were filed this week in B.C. Supreme Court as part of a continuing civil-forfeiture case aimed at permanently confiscating more than $4-million of their cash and property. The couple had the money and personal items seized when they were charged, but when the case collapsed, they applied unsuccessfully to have them returned immediately. Instead, the provincial civil-forfeiture agency, which does not need a criminal conviction or even charges to pursue a file, has stepped in.

According to the documents, Caixuan Qin and Jian Ju Zhu allegedly laundered more than $80-million through their Richmond, B.C., business Silver International over the span of 4½ months in 2015. Based on ledgers seized by the RCMP in raids of the alleged money-laundering business, B.C.'s Office of Civil Forfeiture alleges that the pair was able to launder close to $220-million a year.

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To better understand the scope of Silver International’s business, Mounties selected one day of records (Sept. 30, 2015) and found that on that day, nearly $2.7-million was brought into the nondescript office while $1.65-million was taken away, the civil-forteiture agency said in its filing.

These records also identified one of the company’s customers as Nelson Wong, whom, the claim states, is an alias of Maxim Poon Wong. Mr. Wong, according to the filing from the civil-forfeiture agency, is known to police as an associate of the Triads and the Yellow Triangle Boys gang and also a business partner of Michael Whieldon, a high-level importer of cocaine from Mexico to Metro Vancouver.

Mr. Wong was arrested by Vancouver police in 2015 while carrying a box of bundled $20 and $50 bills worth $225,000 as well as the recipes and equipment needed to make methamphetamine, according to the court document.

“Customers included individuals linked to various unlawful activity including drug production and trafficking, money laundering, homicide, assault, possession of property obtained by crime, and counterfeiting instruments and extortion,” the Jan. 3 filing states.

Silver International did not store its money according to banking-industry standards, nor keep adequate records identifying customers by their full names, the statement said. And it was not registered as a money services business with FinTRAC, the federal financial intelligence agency, until after the RCMP raided its offices, it said.

None of the allegations detailed in the civil-forfeiture claim have been proven in court and lawyers for Ms. Qin and Mr. Zhu did not respond to requests for comment on Friday. The two defendants have not yet filed a response to the claim.

The pair were originally charged criminally in 2017 after a massive RCMP investigation called Project E-Pirate, which was focused on organized criminals believed to be laundering large amounts of cash through British Columbia casinos.

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When federal Crown prosecutors stayed the criminal charges against Ms. Qin, Mr. Zhu and their company at the end of November, it prompted B.C’s Attorney-General to launch a review into what went wrong. Neither the RCMP nor the Crown have explained why the money-laundering case fell apart, though the RCMP said in a statement afterward that it is conducting a “full-scale review.”

Attorney-General David Eby’s office has said he would not comment on the civil-forfeiture case while it is before the courts. Mr. Eby, who previously said he was “incredibly disappointed” by the stay of charges, has launched a separate review of what went wrong and has now spoken about the case with Bill Blair, federal Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction.

The civil-forfeiture agency is targeting a $2.5-million Vancouver home as well as $2-million in cash seized at Silver International’s office and some items seized at Style Travel, another Richmond business owned by the pair.

On Friday, a woman who answered the phone at the Richmond storefront that still bears the name of Style Travel agency on its front door declined to identify herself but said Ms. Qin’s firm no longer operated at the location.

With a report from Xiao Xu

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