Some critics are alleging that British Columbia’s independent probe of casino money laundering was compromised because reviewer Peter German sits on the board of Richmond’s Olympic Oval with the Great Canadian Gaming executive who is responsible for River Rock Casino’s troubled VIP gaming program.
But there was no conflict, German said in an exclusive interview with Global News, despite his decision not to interview Walter Soo, the man who built River Rock’s extremely profitable VIP betting business.
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German, a lawyer and former RCMP executive, was hired by Attorney-General David Eby in late 2017 to probe B.C. Lottery casinos, after an audit revealed that about $13.5 million in $20 bills was accepted at Great Canadian’s River Rock Casino in July 2015.
Police believe much of that cash was provided to Chinese high-rollers by drug-traffickers linked to Chinese organized crime.
German has confirmed that River Rock Casino was at the centre of a Macau-style gambling scheme in which transnational criminals laundered massive amounts of cash, mostly at River Rock’s private high-limit betting rooms, by using ultra-wealthy VIP gamblers recruited from China.
As Great Canadian’s executive vice president of player and gaming development, Soo has built River Rock’s high-limit gaming program, and is responsible for landing “whale” gamblers from overseas and maintaining relations with these clients, who have delivered hundreds of millions in revenues to Great Canadian and B.C.’s government.
During a wide-ranging interview with Global News, German was asked about his relationship with Soo, and whether he should have disclosed the relationship, and interviewed Walter Soo for his report.
“I am a member of the Oval Corporation Board and so is Walter,” German said.
“But as soon as I was appointed he made it very clear we should not, he did not want to confuse the two issues, and so I didn’t. If I wanted to speak with him, I certainly could’ve. It would have been done separate and apart from any interaction we had at the board. So I did not reach out to him for anything specifically, and I didn’t see any need to.”
German said that he interviewed Soo’s superiors, and he got all the information that he needed to file a report, that he maintains was about finding facts, not finding faults.
Asked whether German had disclosed to Attorney General David Eby, the relationship to Soo, German said there was no conflict to report.
“I’m not aware of any conflict,” German said.
In his report, German credited Great Canadian executives for being forthcoming and professional.
But a former Great Canadian security manager who also provided information for German’s review, Proka Avramovic, said he sees a number of problems in German’s relationship with Soo.
“I’m stunned. The whole report is compromised,” Avramovic said in an interview with Global News, when he was informed of German’s decision not to interview Soo. “With this, how can we trust that Peter German didn’t leave Walter Soo, and a whole bunch of other names, out of that report? Because he didn’t do a very important interview with one of the key players, who still exists in the business.”
Avramovic said that when he read German’s report, he was shocked that German credited the actions of some Great Canadian managers.
“There is a few names, and I would not like to mention the names at the moment — hopefully someone will subpoena me at a public inquiry,” Avramovic said. “Now in the report, suddenly they become good guys.”
Sandy Garossino, a former Crown prosecutor and long-time critic of crime in B.C. casinos, said she can’t believe German did not interview Soo.
“Walter Soo is the architect of the VIP (gaming program),” she said. “It puts him right at the centre of the issue around money laundering, and improper transactions.”
To date, there has been no allegation that Soo himself has been involved in any unlawful activities or transactions.
Garossino also said she believes German should have disclosed to Attorney General David Eby, that Soo had reached out to German when German’s appointment as independent reviewer was announced.
“Any communication with an officer or director of Great Canadian Gaming with Peter German, who is conducting an inquiry, should be on the record,” Garossino said.
Eby was not available to answer questions for this story, his office said.
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Who is Walter Soo
According to corporate documents and interviews with company insiders, after starting out as a dealer with Great Canadian in 1983, it was Walter Soo that built relations with the increasingly important Chinese-ethnic gambling community in Metro Vancouver, and eventually created River Rock’s massively profitable VIP gambling room business.
But as Soo landed “whale” gamblers from abroad and money flooded into Great Canadian’s coffers, investigators also noted the problems with suspicious transactions mounting at River Rock, according to documents. For example, Soo was in charge, documents show, when a top River Rock VIP host lost her registration to work in Soo’s VIP program. B.C.’s gaming regulator found in 2018 that the employee allegedly had breached Canada’s anti-money laundering recommendations, in connection to a large suspicious transaction involving a VIP.
German’s report notes that according to one B.C. Lottery Corp. investigator, River Rock’s VIP program was “full of facilitators” and some senior River Rock managers were perceived to be close with VIPs, who were viewed as “untouchable,” and “nobody was looking beneath the surface.”
Great Canadian refused to provide Walter Soo for an interview to answer questions in this story, and efforts by Global News to reach Soo independently have not been successful. An associate of Soo, said it is believed he has been working to set up casino operations at Great Canadian’s new Toronto-area casinos.
Soo’s corporate biography and his social media feed on Twitter, tell the story of his role in drawing overseas VIPS, and his perception of how important these clients were for River Rock.
In one May 2014 tweet, Soo wrote: “The VIP may not always be right, but they are never wrong!”
WATCH: Global investigation raises more money laundering concerns
Avramovic, the former security manager who worked with Soo for a number of years, including during Great Canadian’s troubled Hong Kong-based casino cruise venture in 2001, said: “I’d say he is the go to guy for VIP gambling. He was the Chinese arm of Great Canadian.”
Documents obtained by Global News show that when regulators became concerned with a surge in suspicious cash transactions identified at River Rock, Soo was the Great Canadian executive expected to report on the background of VIPs, and to act as a middleman for B.C. Lottery Corp.
For example, in November 2014, B.C. Lottery Corp. informed Great Canadian that one player, K.W., stood out for buying chips at River Rock with $645,000 in suspicious cash, sourced from suspected organized crime lenders.
“Walter is to arrange for contact with K.W. in the next 24-48 hours to initiate conversation in regard to concerns about personal safety and expectations in regard to cash buy-ins,” documents from the meeting say.
Several investigators familiar with probes in B.C. Lottery casinos, say that various surveillance and financial intelligence documents show that Walter Soo has been observed to be associated with some suspicious VIPs.
However, these alleged reports could be explained simply because Soo’s job requires him to make contacts with wealthy VIPs, one source noted.
Global News asked Proka Avramovic whether he believes German missed an opportunity to find facts, from Walter Soo.
“Walter Soo was well aware of … everything when it comes to the VIPs and large cash transactions,” Avramovic said. “I confidently can say, he is the one that orchestrated most of the action in Great Canadian.”
“I know Walter Soo, but I did not interview him for the report,” German said.
“Again, I wasn’t looking for, it wasn’t a fault-finding exercise. I did speak at Great Canadian with the Chief Compliance Officer.”
In a prepared response for this story, Great Canadian Gaming chief operating officer Terrance Doyle said: “Great Canadian provided Dr. (Peter) German full access to all information and the opportunity to interview any Great Canadian employee that he thought was needed to complete his review. We are unaware of any of member of our staff reaching out directly to Dr. German to decline an interview or involvement in his review.”
The statement adds: “Dr. German noted in his report, Great Canadian … ‘provided ready access to material and were very forthcoming with their time,’ and ‘provided complete access to their facilities and no request for information was rejected.’”
“Dr. German also noted his numerous interviews with Great Canadian’s Chief Operating Officer reporting that: ‘I also respect his professionalism and the assurances that he provided to me,’” the statement from Doyle says.