B.C.’s Attorney General is promising a widespread crackdown in the wake of shocking allegations of money laundering in B.C. real estate linked to the fentanyl trade.
The allegations detailed in a report by the Globe and Mail laid out a scheme by which drug dealers would loan dirty money to Chinese immigrants, who put up Vancouver properties as collateral.
The dealers would then be repaid either in China, or through the sale of their Vancouver properties. The Globe investigation alleges the money repaid in China was often used to buy more fentanyl.
Speaking with Mike Smyth on CKNW’s The Simi Sara Show, Attorney General David Eby called the revelations “disturbing,” and said they tie into the investigation already underway regarding money laundering in B.C. casinos.
“I feel like we pull on a string here and it’s connected in so many other places you end up following it out to a whole sweater.”
Eby said the government money laundering review, headed by former high-ranking Mountie Peter German, has been asked to explore links with the real estate industry.
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He said in the short term, the probe will be investigating the specific names, addresses and transactions named in the Globe report, but that the financial crime problem goes far deeper and will take longer to solve.
That’s because, he argued, the previous government turned a blind eye to the problem, allowing enforcement agencies to wither away to the point of being powerless.
“One of the big concerns I’ve had on taking office is the real lack of infrastructure to detect, prevent and prosecute financial crimes, money laundering, fraud — especially in relation to money laundering and real estate,” Eby said.
LISTEN: Globe and Mail investigative reporter Kathy Tomlinson explains how drug dealers are using real estate to launder cash
Eby said some pieces of the government’s anti-money laundering strategy revealed in Tuesday’s budget, but that a lasting solution will take years to fully develop and implement.
That solution will include empowering investigators who can flag and trace suspicious transactions, along with legislation that will prevent people from owning property anonymously through numbered companies or trusts, Eby said.
What it won’t include is a foreign buyer ban.
Such a ban would penalize law-abiding immigrants, Eby argued, while ignoring real criminals with Canadian passports.
“We’re a community here that relies on recruiting highly-skilled immigrants from around the world who come usually on temporary working visas and then transition into citizenship here. It’s a well established pathway, and one that we’ve benefited from greatly.”
Eby acknowledged that if the crackdown is effective, it could actually undermine B.C.’s bottom line when it comes to gaming revenues and property transfer taxes. But he said it’s a price the province has to be willing to pay if it wants to shed its reputation as a haven for dirty money.
“If we don’t do better financially, at least we’ll know our economy is not built on a foundation of total garbage, and I think that’s critically important,” Eby said.
“We have an international reputation that is in tatters that we have to rebuild.”