British Columbia

Lawyer for alleged loan shark cautions money laundering inquiry against calls for more enforcement

A lawyer for an alleged loan shark cautioned the man overseeing a public inquiry into money laundering in B.C. Tuesday against solutions that would tackle the problem by beefing up law enforcement at the expense of civil rights.

Cullen commission wraps hearings nearly two years after first public meetings in the fall of 2019

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen heads a commission on money laundering in British Columbia. The inquiry wrapped up hearings on Tuesday with final submissions from the parties involved. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

A lawyer for an alleged loan shark cautioned the man overseeing a public inquiry into money laundering in B.C. Tuesday against solutions that would tackle the problem by beefing up law enforcement at the expense of civil rights.

Paul King Jin has played an unusual role at Justice Austin Cullen's commission into money laundering.

The Lower Mainland man was granted standing at the inquiry last November in a ruling where Cullen noted that Jin's name had emerged in testimony suggesting he "has been engaged in money laundering and loan sharking relating to activities at British Columbia casinos."

In written and oral closing submissions, Jin's lawyer, Greg DelBigio, pointed out that his client was investigated — but never charged — as part of the RCMP's Operation E-Pirate investigation into money laundering.

DelBigio said there clearly wasn't enough evidence to prosecute. He urged Cullen to be equally circumspect with calls for greater law enforcement powers.

"If you ask law enforcement officers whether they need more tools and fewer restrictions — the answer's going to be obvious: they will answer, 'Yes,'" DelBigio said.

"But the question which I submit is looming large is: 'Is there any evidence that more tools for law enforcement, more law enforcement and fewer impediments to the rights of targets will result in less crime and less proceeds of crime?"

'That's a profound allegation to make'

Cullen wrapped hearings Tuesday more than two years after the province appointed the B.C. Supreme Court judge to examine the alleged flow of billions of dollars worth of dirty money through the province's casinos, the real estate market, luxury car sales and the drug trade.

Cullen noted that since public hearings began in October 2019, the commission had heard from 198 witnesses and introduced 1,063 exhibits, totalling 70,000 pages of evidence, into the proceedings.

Reports on money laundering have stated that casinos witness the flow of millions of dollars worth of bills through large cash buy-ins. An inquiry into the issue has completed hearings. (B.C. Ministry of Attorney General)

He spent the last three days listening to closing submissions from more lawyers representing an array of governments, agencies, interest groups and individuals — many of whom appeared to be at odds with each other.

At one point, a lawyer for the B.C. Lottery Corporation took aim at counsel for the B.C. Government Employees Union for suggesting that BCLC officers and staff had been "wilfully blind" to money laundering.

William Smart said the claim was "effectively an allegation that they committed a serious criminal offence."

"That's a profound allegation to make," Smart said.

"No other participant has made such an allegation during these closing submissions, about BCLC or any other participant. This is a public inquiry where the personal reputations of individuals are at risk. They can be damaged for years to come."

Along those lines, a lawyer for former B.C. Liberal Solicitor General Kash Heed said his client should not have had to participate at the inquiry, but was forced to defend himself against a whistleblower who claimed Heed told him former gaming minister Rich Coleman had turned a blind eye to money laundering at casinos.

Former RCMP illegal gaming task force commander Fred Pinnock claimed Heed told him in 2009 that he was "convinced" Coleman knew what was happening in B.C. casinos and that senior Mounties were complicit.

Pinnock secretly taped conversations with Heed in 2018 which he claimed "confirmed" and "expanded upon" the unrecorded 2009 conversations.

Heed's lawyer Peter Senkpiel said the allegations made for explosive media stories, but that Heed "did not make unfounded allegations about government officials and law enforcement officers" in 2009, and that anything he might have said in 2018 was said in a different context, as a private citizen, with no direct knowledge, years out of government.

In earlier submissions, Pinnock's lawyer said his client had nothing to gain by lying, calling on Cullen to respect the sacrifices of whistleblowers who have faced backlash for coming forward.

'In the business of private lending'

At one point, Paul King Jin applied unsuccessfully to keep a 653-page overview of lawsuits and allegations against him out of evidence.

The overview details loans allegedly connected to "high-risk" gamblers who, in some cases, have been flagged for suspicious transactions involving large cash buy-ins at casinos.

Kash Heed was British Columbia's Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General in 2009. His lawyer told an inquiry into money laundering that Heed did not make unfounded allegations against another minister and RCMP officers at that time. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

According to the document Jin states in one court affidavit "that he is in the business of private lending."

Jin also tried unsuccessfully to force Commission counsel to supply him with a definition of the term "loan shark" or — in the alternative — for an order that the phrase not be applied to him.

DelBigio said Jin is still defending himself against civil forfeiture claims and evidence from the inquiry suggests there may be an ongoing criminal investigation against him, all of which makes it difficult for Jin to speak without risking harm.

He got support for his position on rights from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which said greater civil forfeiture powers and increased information sharing between agencies is not the answer to money laundering.

"There have been numerous calls for increased surveillance and information sharing at this Commission," BCCLA lawyer Jessica Magonet told Cullen.

"However, there is no credible evidence that these initiatives will decrease money laundering. In contrast, the evidence is clear that these proposals will be expensive and will erode privacy rights."

After the last submission, Cullen thanked the behind the scenes staff at the inquiry and all the lawyers who have made submissions. He did not give a timeline for his final report. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and the justice system extensively.

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