Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has handed new Minister Bill Blair a mandate to fight organized crime money laundering, specifically in British Columbia, in “efforts to counter guns, gangs and opioid distribution.”
The release of Blair’s mandate letter, which also includes directions for reducing gun violence, and handling irregular migration, highlights the engagement of Trudeau’s government in a crisis of money laundering connected to B.C. Lottery casinos.
In July Blair, a former Toronto chief of police, was appointed new minister of border security and organized crime reduction.
Trudeau’s mandate to Blair states: “You will be expected to work closely with provinces, territories, and municipalities, as well as community organizations, law enforcement and border agencies. This work should include a focus on cutting off money laundering which, as we have seen recently in British Columbia, supports our efforts to counter guns, gangs and opioid distribution.”
It’s not immediately clear how Blair plans to tackle B.C.’s money laundering problems. Over the past year there have been discussions within B.C.’s government about starting a money laundering task force with assistance from Ottawa, or requesting funds to increase the number of RCMP officers focused on crimes connected to money laundering.
“Anti-money laundering is primarily a federal responsibility and B.C. would welcome new federal policing investments to restore the RCMP’s federal capacity to investigate trans-national money laundering,” B.C.’s Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General stated, in response to questions from Global News.
Global News has reported extensively on revelations of money laundering in B.C. over the past year.
The schemes involve transnational gangs based in China, Hong Kong and Macau, with criminals involved in fentanyl importation and trafficking in Canada.
Global reported in April: “Criminal syndicates that control chemical factories in China’s booming Guangdong province are shipping narcotics, including fentanyl, to Vancouver, washing the drug sales in British Columbia’s casinos and high-priced real estate, and transferring laundered funds back to Chinese factories.”
WATCH: Global investigation reveals more B.C. money laundering concerns
The B.C. money laundering schemes also involve offshore and underground banking networks with connections between Richmond, Hong Kong, and Guangdong businesses, Global’s investigations show.
And there are also connections between VIP gamblers from China used in the casino laundering schemes, and gun trafficking in B.C., according to legal cases and law enforcement sources.
Earlier this year, B.C. Attorney General David Eby testified in Ottawa, and informed senators that the unique money laundering method seen in B.C. casinos had become known internationally as the “Vancouver Model.”
This method is similar to money laundering seen in Macau casinos. Wealthy gamblers from China, sometimes including crime bosses and corrupt officials, are given suspected drug cash loans to buy chips in B.C. casinos, by loan shark networks. The so-called “whale gamblers” can pay back these loans in China, with little or no interest.
The loans are also secured by the lenders, by taking out mortgages against luxury real estate or vehicles in B.C.
Last September, Eby ordered an independent review into B.C. casino money laundering after an audit showed about $14 million in suspicious cash had flowed through Richmond’s River Rock Casino in July 2015.
Reviewer Peter German, a former RCMP executive, filed a scathing report confirming that Chinese organized crime networks with roots in Guangdong, Macau and Hong Kong, laundered at least $100 million through loan sharks and VIP gamblers in B.C. Lottery casinos. German has since told Global News that the $100 million figure was likely a low estimate.