British Columbia

Homemakers buying multiple homes, layers of shady mortgages and other signs of dirty money in B.C. real estate

"Criminal profiteers distorting a provincial economy is not inevitable," Attorney General David Eby said. "And while it may be our present, it is not our future anymore."

'Criminal profiteers distorting a provincial economy is … not our future anymore,' pledges AG David Eby

Taxing empty homes is one of the tactics B.C. and Vancouver are using to discourage property speculators from buying homes and then leaving them vacant during a housing affordability crisis. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Showing a flair for the dramatic, Attorney General David Eby borrowed from Game of Thrones to drive home his point while delivering Thursday's report on money laundering in the B.C. real estate market.

"It may be spring but winter is finally coming," he said.

"The party is over."

The "party" is the estimated $5.3 billion of dirty money washed through the B.C. housing market by criminals in 2018, according to the report.

Eby said even without access to law enforcement and criminal databases, investigator Peter German and his team had no problem uncovering more than a few eye-popping examples of how proceeds of crime may be infiltrating all aspects of the B.C. real estate sector:

  • A homemaker who bought more than a dozen downtown row houses over three years for $4.1 million.
  • Another homemaker who bought five luxury homes in three years for a total of $21 million.
  • A Vancouver luxury car reseller, known to police, who owns three homes in Metro Vancouver worth $8.6 million. The properties have multiple mortgages held by three numbered companies and a newly incorporated mortgage investment company. Each new mortgage was found to be at a lower rate of interest than the previous mortgage.
B.C. Attorney General David Eby tells assembled media "the party is over" for criminals who launder money through real estate in the province. (Mike McArthur/CBC)
  • A $3.5-million Gulf Island property acquired with funds allegedly embezzled from a $90-million loan fraud in India. The property is owned through a company registered in a high-risk jurisdiction using a post office box as its address.
  • Almost 500 different properties with four to 29 mortgages each, registered and repaid in rapid succession. 
  • Hundreds of individuals and numbered companies that own property with only the address of a law firm on title. Eby said this was part of a larger pool of 71,000 residential properties registered in a way that makes identifying the true owner incredibly difficult if not impossible.
  • Titles to more than 3,000 residential properties — worth more than $3 billion —  that have ownership addresses located in high-risk financial jurisdictions. Of those properties, 473 list owners' addresses in offshore financial centres and tax havens.

In the report, German highlights some of the unique occupations listed by titleholders in the land title registry, including "superdad," funemployed," "wannabe ski bum" and "trophy wife."

"We have assumed that the four B.C. titleholders who list "launderer" as their occupation are referring to clothing," wrote German. 

Humour aside, Eby says the findings in the 367 page report are "stark evidence of the consequences of an absence of oversight ... until now."

"Criminal profiteers distorting a provincial economy is not inevitable," he said. "And while it may be our present, it is not our future anymore."

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