Police arrest 17, seize almost $33M in Montreal-Toronto money-laundering bust
Some 300 police officers and partners were mobilized Monday in Quebec and Ontario
The RCMP says it has cracked down on an elaborate international money-laundering network operated by organized-crime cells in Montreal and Toronto.
Police arrested 17 people in early morning raids in the two cities Monday, seizing more than $32.8 million in assets.
"It is by depriving criminal groups of their money-laundering networks that we will shake the very structure of organized crime,'' said RCMP Supt. Martine Fontaine Tuesday at a news conference.
The network had the capacity to launder millions of dollars, she said.
Dubbed Project Collecteur, the bust involved multiple police forces and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), the RCMP said in a statement Tuesday that offered some details of their investigation.
Fontaine called the investigation extremely complex and one of the most important of its kind in Canada — one of the rare money-laundering probes that has led to gangsterism charges.
Investigators had to narrow their focus to certain people and keep track of evidence, she said, in a bid to facilitate the prosecution process and not cause delays.
"It's thousands and thousands of documents to disclose and to caveat and to be prepared for full disclosure," Fontaine said.
The arrests were the result of a two-year investigation launched in the spring of 2016. Those targeted were allegedly collecting money from criminal organizations in Montreal and then moving that money through various individuals and currency exchange offices in Toronto.
The group used an informal value transfer system with connections in Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, the United States and China, the RCMP said. The funds were then returned to drug-exporting countries, such as Colombia and Mexico.
"This procedure allowed for the laundering of significant amounts of money originating from illegal activities, including drug trafficking. The criminal organizations could thus import drugs through this network," the RCMP said.
That network has now been identified and dismantled, according to the Mounties.
Of the suspects arrested, 10 were in Quebec and seven were in Ontario. The suspects, aged 26 to 71, are facing charges that include conspiracy, possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking and laundering proceeds of crime.
Three more suspects are still being sought by police. Police are still looking for:
- Francisco Javier Jimenez Guerrero, 35, address unknown.
- Victor Vargotskii, 56, of Montreal.
- Frederick Rayman, 71, of Unionville, Ont.
The names of those arrested are:
- Mohamad Jaber, 51, Laval.
- Kamel Ghaddar, 39, Laval.
- Eric Bradette, 36, L'Assomption.
- Sergio Violetta Galvez, 43, Laval.
- Alexei Parasenco, 26, Montreal.
- Mario Maratta, 64, Sainte-Sophie.
- Sorin Ehrlich, 62, Montreal.
- Gary Maybee, 57, Austin.
- Nader Gramian-Nik, 56, Vaughan.
- Tania Geramian-Nik, 28, Vaughan.
- Sahar Shojaei, 45, Thornhill.
- Thomas Hsueh, 47, Thornhill.
- Mohammadreza Sheikhhassani, 55, Richmond Hill.
- Shabnam Mansouri, 38, Maple.
During the investigation and the searches, police seized drugs including cannabis, cocaine, hashish and methamphetamine, with a market value of close to $2.2 million, the RCMP said.
Bank accounts and money in Canadian and foreign currencies were also seized, for a value of $8.7 million.
The CRA seized six properties valued at about $15 million, and the RCMP seized property estimated to be worth $7 million.
Clandestine swaps in parking lots
RCMP Sgt. François-Olivier Myette said there were two "major organizations" operating — one in Toronto and the other in Montreal.
He said the cash was moved in suitcases, duffel bags and car trunks.
The RCMP conducted surveillance operations, monitoring secret transactions in parking lots and elsewhere, capturing everything on video.
The suspects sometimes didn't know each other, he said. They would identify each other during these transactions by using a predetermined token number — often a serial number on the cash.
The cash transactions involved between $500,000 and $1 million at a time. The suspects would pick up bags of cash in Toronto and then release an equivalent value, mainly in Dubai, he said.
"It's like if you take money from your left pocket and you exit it from your right pocket," Myette said. "That's the way it operates."
50 CRA investigators
Stéphane Bonin, director of criminal investigations for the CRA, said 50 CRA investigators were involved in the operation in both Montreal and Toronto.
"Tax evasion and the underground economy both in Canada and abroad are priorities of the Canada Revenue Agency, as well as other tax administrations around the world," he said.
"Results like those reported today are made possible thanks to our tight collaboration with national partners such as the RCMP, as well as international partners around the world."
With files from The Canadian Press