In his first briefing about the degree to which organized crime had infiltrated British Columbia's casinos, Attorney-General David Eby was warned: "Get ready … we are going to blow your mind."
A while later, it was mission accomplished: Mind blown.
Of all the files on Mr. Eby's desk, nothing has jarred him like this one. Imagine, hockey bags stuffed with $100,000 in $20 bills being dropped off at casinos late at night to be laundered at blackjack and poker tables. That has, until now, been a regular occurrence on the West Coast and an offshoot of what appears to be a sophisticated and substantial money-laundering operation that, in turn, has links to an international underground banking network.
It is the stuff of a James Bond movie.
It's been so easy to play the game in B.C., it's become notorious around the world, a gangsters' paradise with little to no oversight. Mr. Eby was told that it's even known in international crime circuits as "the Vancouver model." Come one, come all, and get your proceeds of crime cleaned up by B.C.'s gambling palaces. While it may not be the image the province is trying to cultivate, it's the reputation it has built.
The fact is, there has for years been suspicions that Vancouver has been a prime money-laundering destination and that a lot of that cash has been used to fuel the insane rise in house prices. In fact, court documents uncovered by Postmedia's Sam Cooper, whose seminal reporting has exposed the degree to which money laundering has become a massive undertaking in B.C., show that some of those suspected of having prime roles in this shady business own mansions and penthouses around the city.
Many are Chinese nationals wanting to get money out of the reach of their government and the tight capital controls it has imposed. And this has been happening for a number of years.
Mr. Eby recently released a preliminary report on the situation, along with some first steps to address the problem – ones that should have occurred a long time ago under the former Liberal government. There have been accusations hurled by the government that the Liberals turned a blind eye to the problem, given the importance gaming revenue represents to the provincial treasury. The Liberals insist that's not true.
Regardless, provincial regulators will now start staffing casinos around the clock, on the lookout for those arriving with large sacks of cash. Also, operators will now have to file a "source of funds declaration" for cash or cash equivalents over $10,000 – this is to help ensure money entering a casino came from a legitimate source. There is still a broader investigation under way, one which will hopefully show the extent to which money being laundered through B.C. casinos has made its way into the broader economy, such as the real estate sector.
In 2015, the RCMP raided a number of small, money-transfer operations in Richmond, B.C. Computers and cellphones seized at the time have provided a trove of information that is still being mined today by authorities. What we haven't seen much of, however, is consequences.
Given the scope of what has been occurring, right under our noses, why haven't there been some high-profile convictions? Authorities need to soon show that B.C. is no longer the backwater rube that hasn't a clue what's going on. That it's no longer a luxurious mountains-and-water playground for international crime syndicates to do business.
It would also be nice to know if anyone in these casinos has been fired. There has been the heavy implication that there has been some collusion involved, inside co-operation that has allowed criminal elements to flourish. At the very least, it's safe to say there have been people asleep at the craps table and that can't be tolerated. How can the public have any faith in these operations if there is no evidence that inappropriate and possibly criminal behaviour by casino employees is being addressed?
There have been countless red flags from regulators over the years that something was amiss in B.C.'s casinos. We are now beginning to see the extent to which their suspicions were right. The question is: Why did it take so long to begin rooting it out?
Perhaps the answer may be one we don't want to hear.