In 2014, as Beijing was ramping up Operation Fox Hunt, a sprawling campaign to go after corrupt politicians and economic criminals hiding overseas, a representative of the Chinese government approached William Majcher.
A retired former undercover officer with the RCMP, Mr. Majcher had been living in Hong Kong for seven years, working as a corporate investigator and advising banks on money laundering. According to Mr. Majcher, he was invited to meet someone “very close to senior state security,” who asked him whether he would be able to help track down money stolen by corrupt officials.
“They said, ‘Bill, you have informal relationships with police and intelligence services that will allow us to save a lot of time,’” he told an audience at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club the following year, adding “nothing has come of it, of course.”
In years since, however, this changed. On Thursday, Mr. Majcher was arrested in Vancouver by the RCMP, days after arriving from Hong Kong. Due in court on Tuesday, he is accused of conducting foreign interference on behalf of China. He has been charged with two counts under the Security of Information Act, including Section 23, which covers “preparatory acts for the benefit of a foreign entity,” and Section 22, which covers conspiracy. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of two years.
Mr. Majcher’s arrest comes amid a national debate on rising foreign interference in Canada and how to address it. The RCMP and Canadian intelligence are facing pressure to show they are taking the issue seriously, with complaints they ignored or failed to act on tips for years.
For this article, The Globe and Mail spoke to friends and acquaintances of Mr. Majcher in Hong Kong and Canada, and reviewed corporate records in Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as previous talks and interviews given by Mr. Majcher himself. The former Mountie was a confident public speaker and a frequent media commentator, with the type of public profile not common in his secretive industry.
Several associates questioned why Mr. Majcher travelled to Vancouver last week, wondering if he knew he was facing investigation and wanted to turn himself in. Speaking to a podcast produced by Hong Kong University (HKU) last year, he said a truism of law enforcement was that “we only catch the dumb guys,” and Mr. Majcher, everyone who knows him agreed, is anything but dumb.
In the 2015 talk, Mr. Majcher said, “China unfairly gets a lot of criticism,” adding he was personally “a big fan” of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption crackdown. “I think he’s on the right track and I hope it works out.”
In this he was not alone, with many both in China and around the world cheering Mr. Xi’s attempts to rein in the corruption and graft that had ballooned under his predecessor Hu Jintao. But as Mr. Xi’s campaign escalated and the number of arrests grew into the tens of thousands, some observers began to question whether the true purpose was to suppress any potential rivals, particularly when Chinese investigators turned their attention overseas, going after not only fugitive criminals, but also dissidents and critics – some of whom had foreign citizenship.
Mr. Majcher appeared to acknowledge that criminality often isn’t the overriding focus of corruption investigations for Beijing, saying in 2015 that “when they start zeroing in on individuals, it’s because those individuals have been identified as potentially being a threat to the political or social stability of China.”
According to the RCMP, Mr. Majcher allegedly “contributed to the Chinese government’s efforts to identify and intimidate an individual outside the scope of Canadian law.” In a statement, the RCMP said he had been under investigation since 2021, and had “used his knowledge and his extensive network of contacts in Canada to obtain intelligence or services to benefit the People’s Republic of China.”
Phil Hynes, another Hong Kong-based investigator who has known Mr. Majcher for years, said the Canadian appeared to have been caught up in the “deteriorating relationship between the West and China.”
“He’s a victim of circumstances,” Mr. Hynes said. “People like Bill have been chasing fugitives, not dissidents, but it’s become intentionally blurred.”
William Robert Majcher was born in Nova Scotia in 1962. His father emigrated to Canada from Poland, where he joined the Air Force, eventually spending 38 years in the military. The family moved around a lot, with stints in Alberta and Germany.
Following university, Mr. Majcher moved to London where he became a bond trader. But he found the work boring, despite earning in one year more than his father made in his life.
“I just wanted some adventure and some excitement,” he told the HKU podcast. He had always been more drawn to the RCMP than the military, and over his father’s misgivings, moved back to Canada to become a Mountie, eventually joining the force’s undercover unit.
Mr. Majcher cut his teeth doing heroin and cocaine buys in Vancouver, before moving to Chicago to work on financial crime with the FBI. In his most high-profile case, he worked undercover to investigate the Medellin drug cartel, tracking how the Colombian gang was laundering money through the U.S. and Canada.
In 2004, Mr. Majcher took over the Vancouver-based Integrated Market Enforcement Team, the RCMP’s white-collar crime unit. But he was suspended the following year amid an internal investigation. Reports from the time suggest Mr. Majcher had drawn the ire of superiors by running for election in Richmond without first taking the required time off.
He left under uncertain circumstances following an internal investigation.
Mr. Majcher moved to Hong Kong in 2006, drawing on his financial and policing experience to establish himself as a highly respected corporate investigator. This work appears to have been lucrative, enabling Mr. Majcher to live in a quiet, exclusive neighbourhood on the western tip of Hong Kong Island, overlooking the sea. Friends and associates described Mr. Majcher as smart and highly personable. He was a gifted storyteller, with plenty of incredible tales from his long career to share.
Some who spoke to The Globe were deeply shocked by the news, but for others, it came as less of a surprise. Since at least 2019, Mr. Majcher and his alleged work for the Chinese state have been the source of rumours – including through an anonymously authored dossier about him published online.
Some of this the former Mountie talked about openly. In 2019, he told an ABC News investigation he had been involved in Project Dragon, an effort by Beijing to “recover millions of dollars in alleged ‘hot money’ taken out of the country.”
“As long as the claim is valid and as long as we’re doing everything lawfully and properly, I’m a hired gun to help either large corporates or governments to get back what is rightfully theirs,” Mr. Majcher told the broadcaster. “I have a commercial relationship with entities that are in themselves associated in some form or another with policing authorities in China. And a big part of their mandate is focused on economic crime, financial crime, money laundering.”
It’s unclear what entities Mr. Majcher was referencing in the interview. According to a biography of Mr. Majcher from a Hong Kong-based speakers bureau, he worked for “a number of Chinese state-owned and non-state owned enterprise clients.” His company Emidr “works closely with various governments concerned with financial crime, money laundering, and tax evasion,” the biography said.
A review of Hong Kong corporate records showed Emidr was founded in 2016. Five years later, Mr. Majcher and the firm’s other director, also a Canadian, transferred all shares in Emidr to Blackwired, a Singapore-based cybersecurity firm of which Mr. Majcher is also listed as a director. Representatives of Blackwired did not respond to a request for comment about Mr. Majcher’s arrest.
In the HKU podcast last year, Mr. Majcher appeared to acknowledge the shifting environment around his work, saying it was not always clear who the good guys and bad guys were. He said he was increasingly concerned “about government overreach into my life,” and warned everyone should be wary of governments speaking in the name of security, because “a lot of new laws, a lot of new powers come out of fear.”
With a report from Steven Chase in Ottawa.