British Columbia

How does laundered cash shape B.C.'s economy? Report due in March

B.C. Attorney General David Eby says report will highlight whether dirty money is influencing the real estate market and other sectors of the economy.
Attorney General David Eby says he had no idea how big the problem with money laundering at B.C. casinos was until he was briefed shortly after the NDP formed government. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

An investigation into the extent of money laundering in B.C. casinos will also pull back the curtain on whether dirty cash is linked to the province's booming real estate market.

The report, expected early March 2018, was commissioned by Attorney General David Eby following revelations of widespread money laundering in B.C. casinos.

"There's no question that money was made as a result of this activity in B.C. casinos," said Eby at a news conference on Friday.

Lawyer Peter German — a former deputy commissioner of the RCMP and author of Canada's leading anti-money-laundering law textbook — is in the midst of his investigation, which he says will highlight the extent to which laundered cash has flowed into B.C.'s real estate market and other sectors of the economy.

"It's important that our economy is based on integrity, and that we don't have an international reputation as a scofflaw," meaning a jurisdiction where the rules do not apply to white collar crime, fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering, according to Eby

The attorney general launched the review after reading a report commissioned by the previous Liberal government about the River Rock Casino in Richmond accepting $13.5 million in $20 bills in July 2015, which police said could be proceeds of crime.

The July 2016 report  — which was shelved by the previous government — says the majority of the cash is being presented by people commonly referred to as "high roller Asian VIP clients" and that River Rock was known to have accepted single cash buy-ins in excess of $500,000.

A CBC News investigation found during a three-month time period in the spring of 2014, almost $27-million worth of suspicious cash transactions were documented at just two Lower Mainland casinos. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

'We had no idea it was this big'

In a speech delivered to UBC's Allard Law School and the International Centre for Criminal Law Reform, Eby said he was astonished once initially briefed on the volume of suspicious cash flowing through B.C. casinos.

"We knew there was something strange going on, but, my God, we had no idea it was this big," read transcripts of the speech that were published earlier this month.

Eby also pointed to a glaring discrepency between real estate values in Metro Vancouver and the taxable incomes homeowners report to Revenue Canada as cause for concern.

"The question that flows from this economic reality is quite simple. Where is the money coming from?" he said.

Interim recommendations made by German to quell the amount of illegal cash flowing through B.C.'s gaming industry are starting to be implemented, Eby said,

Most notably, casinos must provide a "source of funds declaration" when receiving more than $10,000 or more in cash deposits or bearer bonds.

The government says such declarations must include the customer's identification, the source of their funds and the financial institution and account where the money comes from.

A second recommendation calls for regulators from the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch to be present at high-volume casinos on the Lower Mainland and available 24/7.