British Columbia

'Sometimes your outcomes aren't perfect,' says former minister on B.C. money laundering report

Rich Coleman, the minister once responsible for B.C.'s gaming industry, is downplaying an independent report which says officials failed to act on money laundering in the province.

'Never once did I ever say, ‘Go easy on money laundering''

Formerly B.C.'s solicitor-general, Rich Coleman was once responsible for gaming in the province. He said he never once went "easy" on money launderers. (CBC)

The minister once responsible for B.C.'s gaming industry is downplaying an independent report which says officials failed to act on money laundering in the province, allowing it to flourish over a decade. 

Rich Coleman, former solicitor-general, also contradicted a police statement surrounding the decision to disband an RCMP unit once in charge of investigating organized crime at the province's casinos.

Coleman said he wasn't lenient with the issue, but that public officials and law enforcement tried "to do the best job they could.

"In this case, there was a period of time it didn't work so well, but it's been fixed," he said Sunday.

'Collective systemic failure'

The report, released Wednesday, said a "collective systemic failure" cleared the way for unwitting casinos in B.C.'s Lower Mainland to become "laundromats" for proceeds of crime.

Authored by former RCMP commissioner Peter German, the in-depth review said more than $100 million has likely been cleaned in B.C. over the last decade-and-a-half.

The report said organized crime groups, primarily from Asia, laundered money from illegal drugs and then invested the money in Vancouver-area real estate.

Attorney General David Eby said the money laundering is tied to organized crime, the ongoing opioid crisis, the real estate market and skyrocketing housing prices across the Lower Mainland today.

The report doesn't name names or blame specific individuals — but many demanded a response from Coleman, former solicitor general who took over the gaming file in 2001.

Peter German, front left, former deputy commissioner of the RCMP, speaks about his review of anti-money laundering practices in Vancouver on Wednesday. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

He did not respond to repeated media requests in the days after the review's release, but was interviewed by the CBC at a Canada Day event on Sunday.

Coleman said German's report was "balanced" and "honest," but not overly critical.

"I don't think it was scathing," he said. 

"Sometimes your outcomes aren't perfect and that's when you fix things and do better."

Surveillance footage of alleged money laundering was presented at Wednesday's press conference. Attorney General David Eby said the tape shows wads of $20 bills being exchanged in a casino cash cage. (Supplied)

Coleman said he wasn't soft on the money laundering issue.

"Absolutely not," he said. "Never once did I ever say, 'Go easy on money laundering.'"

German's report made nearly 50 recommendations for the province to solve its money laundering problem moving forward.

Specialized RCMP unit dissolved

Coleman took over the province's gaming file in 2001. 

The RCMP's Integrated Illegal Gaming Enforcement Team warned B.C. how vulnerable its casinos were to money laundering five years later.

In early 2009, the unit asked for more power to investigate money laundering in the province.

Then-solicitor general Rich Coleman addresses the media in Victoria B.C. on June 27, 2001. (Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press)

But Coleman disbanded the $1-million unit months later, saying it wasn't cost effective.

After German's report was released, the RCMP said the dissolution decision came from government — but Coleman contradicted that statement on Sunday.

"I was actually pushing pretty hard for that IIGET thing to work, but you have to bring the expertise in," Coleman said.

"The law enforcement community made some recommendations of change to improve, which we did."

'No knowledge' of senior director warnings

The former senior director of investigations for B.C.'s Gaming and Policy Enforcement Branch got a shout-out in German's report for "nailing" the issue of money laundering in casinos back in 2012.

Joe Schalk said he went to the province's deputy minister about the problem, but was ignored. 

He said he was fired without cause in 2014.

On Sunday, Coleman said he had "no knowledge" of a conversation between Schalk and the deputy minister.

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