VANCOUVER — The final report of a commission examining money laundering in British Columbia is likely to draw the curtain not only on the extent of the problem in the province but, to some extent, on problems across the country. , according to observers.
And a transparency expert says governments across the country should be watching closely.
“Money laundering is a national and even an international problem,” says James Cohen of Transparency International Canada. “You can’t fix this subjurisdiction all at once, so I hope the federal government pays close attention to it.”
Cohen added that he hopes the Cullen Commission’s report, due out Wednesday, will make recommendations to the federal government as well as the province. Led by former B.C. Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen, the commission was created after years of public concern that money laundering linked to organized crime and drug trafficking was affecting real estate prices, the market for luxury cars and the ever-increasing gambling industry in British Columbia.
A 2019 BC government report estimated that more than $5 billion in laundered money passed through the province’s real estate in 2018, contributing 5% of the house price increase seen this year. -the.
Cohen’s organization released a report in 2019 indicating that “billions” of unknown funds were circulating in the Toronto real estate market – all part of what Cohen calls “snowwashing” or money laundering at across Canada.
The British Columbia commission was tasked with determining to what extent the problem grew and whether any agencies or individuals aided or were corrupted by it. It will make recommendations on how to tackle the problem.
As of 2019, over 133 sitting days, the commission heard testimony from nearly 200 witnesses. The provincial government already has the 1,800-page report, having received it on June 10.
As the commission did its work, British Columbia Attorney General David Eby criticized Canada’s Financial Transactions and Reporting Analysis Agency after the commission had initial difficulty obtaining information from His part.
Cohen said Ottawa should take a cue from Victoria and conduct a federal investigation into money laundering. Since British Columbia began its own measures to try to stem any potential money laundering, those doing the washing have moved east, particularly to Ontario, he said in quoting the media about it.
“Dirty money will go to the weakest link,” Cohen said. “Ontario needs to get stronger.
He said he was pleased with some steps taken at the federal level, such as the proposal for a corporate beneficial ownership registry, but added that British Columbia also needed to establish a corporate registry for real estate.
An article in the May 30 Star detailed how an accused money launderer, whose example was featured at the inquest, smuggled more than $120 million into Canada without the country’s major banks report the suspicious influx of cash.
The only bank that reported the hundreds of electronic transactions was a local branch of a Swiss-based bank. Two mansions in Vancouver worth more than $12 million each were among the purchases made by the person.
This is not the first time that British Columbia has taken a serious look at money laundering. In 2018, former RCMP Deputy Commissioner Peter German released a report titled Dirty Money, examining laundering in BC casinos.
His investigation shed light on the complexity and extent of the problem, including revealing now infamous security camera footage showing bags full of money being laundered through BC casinos.
German said money laundering is a reflection of criminal enterprises in Canada. Cash in small denominations from drug trafficking, for example, can be introduced into the legitimate financial system through banks, cryptocurrencies or money services businesses by organized crime: the trail and the integration, so you can remove it.
German said it’s unclear exactly what Cullen’s document will reveal on Wednesday or what approach Cullen took. The former constable said that for his own report he looked at real estate money laundering for the province by looking at “red flags” such as private mortgages, quickly canceled mortgages and property flips.
However, he said, it remains a complex task to try to trace the origins of the laundered money, which could add to the challenges of the Cullen Commission.
“Once you see a number of red flags, you drill down and examine that particular transaction to try to figure out where the money is coming from,” German said. “It gets quite difficult.”
German said he hopes the federal government will treat the commission’s report seriously, despite its focus on British Columbia.
Cohen, meanwhile, said he heard whispers on the federal scene similar to those heard in British Columbia before the commission was established. He said there may soon be pressure on Ottawa to hold a similar inquiry.
“British Columbians and even Canadians are hoping to see someone held accountable for all of this, it’s not just missteps,” Cohen said. “Most people want to see a way forward to solve this problem, but people want accountability.”
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