British Columbia

'A disturbing signal': AG laments collapse of high-profile probe into B.C. money laundering

All of the criminal charges laid after E-Pirate — a high-profile RCMP investigation into money-laundering in B.C.— have been stayed.

'The charges were stayed for several reasons that materialized during the course of the file,' say RCMP

Project E-Pirate was a high-profile money-laundering probe that targeted high-stakes gamblers in British Columbia. (CBC)

UPDATE — Nov. 29, 2018: Federal Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair issued the following statement in response to news of the stayed charges:

"Our government takes the threat posed by money laundering and organized crime to Canada's national security and the integrity of our financial sector very seriously. We remain committed to combating organized crime in all its forms. We are taking action to combat money laundering through the RCMP's investigative and intelligence capabilities both in Canada and abroad, and our Financial Intelligence Unit further helps protect Canadians and our financial system. We cannot comment further on an ongoing investigation."

British Columbia's attorney general says he was "incredibly disappointed" to hear all of the criminal charges laid in a high-profile RCMP investigation into money-laundering in B.C. have been stayed.

The investigation — called E-Pirate by the RCMP— was launched in 2015 into a suspected underground banking operation that allegedly processed suspected drug money, and allegedly funded gamblers in high-stakes games in B.C. casinos. 

It's unclear why the charges were stayed.  A "stay" is a legal term signifying the Crown has discontinued the prosecution but has up to a year from the date the charges were stayed to reinstate them.

David Eby said he has asked the federal government for a briefing, but he's not sure if he will have access to any details. 

"I literally read the news that the prosecution had been stayed in the newspaper. I have no idea why this happened," Eby said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. 

"I think we need to know what went wrong because something obviously went terribly wrong."

The five counts in the original indictment included laundering the proceeds of crime, possession of property obtained by crime, failing to register a money services business and failures to keep proper records and report suspect financial transactions.

The charges were laid against Silver International Investments Ltd., Caixuan Qin and Jain Jun Zhu in the fall of 2017.

Eby said he has an upcoming meeting with his federal counterpart, Bill Blair, the minister of border security and organized crime reduction, to discuss why the charges were stayed. The case was set to go to trial in provincial court in Richmond in January 2019.

He says he also plans to meet with his staff in B.C. to see if any of the charges could fall under provincial jurisdiction.

"It is a disturbing signal that a prosecution of this magnitude collapses shortly before going to trial," Eby said. "It is a crisis for our province. I think it is a matter of concern across the province and across the country increasingly."

At a media conference on Wednesday, B.C. Attorney General David Eby said he learned that the money laundering charges were stayed from reading the news that morning. (Jacy Schindel/CBC)

Charges stayed by prosecutors

In a press release on Wednesday morning the RCMP confirmed that the Public Prosecution Service of Canada stayed all charges last week.

"The charges were stayed for several reasons that materialized during the course of the file; the nature of which will not be discussed in any detail given operational sensitivities," wrote RCMP Sgt. Marie Damian.

The RCMP did reveal the force is reviewing the file to understand "its activities which contributed to this stay," to incorporate relevant lessons and prevent this from happening in the future.

In a written statement, Public Prosecution Service of Canada spokeswoman Nathalie Houle said the charges did not meet its prosecution test, which stipulate there be a reasonable prospect of conviction on evidence likely to be available at trial and it would best serve the public interest.

Matthew Nathanson, a lawyer for Silver International and one of the people charged, declined any comment.

The lawyer for the second person originally charged could not be reached yet for comment.

Anonymous tip line launched

British Columbia has been focusing its efforts on tackling money laundering. In June, the province released a scathing independent report on the issue, focusing on the role of B.C.'s casinos. 

The Dirty Money report, authored by former RCMP deputy commissioner Peter German, said more than $100 million has been cleaned in B.C. amid a "collective system failure."

As part of the review, German put forward 48 recommendations to fix the problem — which he says was apparent to officials as far back as 2011. Horse racing, real estate and luxury cars have also been in the crosshairs. 

Recently, the B.C. government's expert panel on money laundering in real estate launched a public consultation to help shape its recommendations on how to better protect B.C.'s real estate sector from those seeking to launder the proceeds of crime. 

The panel will be accepting responses from individuals, stakeholders or organizations by email or through the government website until Dec. 14.

Eby also announced an anonymous tip portal for reporting dirty money in horse racing, real estate and luxury cars

Large amounts of money were seized as part of in-depth investigations into money laundering at B.C. casinos. (CBC)

With files from Yvette Brend