B.C.’s River Rock Casino has been called the epicentre of money laundering by international organized crime groups.
Throughout the troubles, Sen. Larry Campbell has collected more than $800,000 in cash compensation and about $2.1 million worth of shares as a board director of the company that owns the casino, Great Canadian Gaming.
On Tuesday, he declined to answer questions about whether his twin roles could put him in a conflict of interest.
But Global News has learned he is quietly stepping down as chair of a powerful Senate committee.
“We are writing to inform you that Senator Larry Campbell has informed us of his intention to step down … in September 2018,” said an Aug. 29 email obtained by Global News from Campbell’s independent senator colleagues.
It is not known whether Campbell’s decision to step down as chair of the standing committee on internal economy and budgets, one of the most influential positions in Senate, has any relation to the evolving controversy at Great Canadian Gaming. And Campbell has repeatedly refused to answer questions from Global News.
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Campbell said Tuesday outside Senate chambers, when asked to comment about money-laundering concerns at Great Canadian’s River Rock Casino, in Richmond.
Campbell was elected Vancouver mayor after working as an RCMP drug unit officer and coroner in B.C., and he served as mayor from 2002 to 2005.
In one of the most divisive issues of his term in Vancouver, in 2004, Campbell broke a deadlocked council and cast the deciding vote to grant Great Canadian Gaming up to 600 slot machines, at a Vancouver horse racetrack.
At the height of his popularity, Campbell decided not to run again for mayor. He was appointed as a Liberal senator in 2007. But before leaving Vancouver city hall, Campbell created a new political party, Vision, that received $30,750 in campaign funding from Great Canadian in 2005, records show.
In 2008, it was disclosed that Campbell had been voted in as a director for Great Canadian Gaming, and Campbell took a position on the company’s committee of corporate security and compliance.
In June 2015, corporate records show, Campbell became chair of the committee, which oversees the company’s ethics and compliance programs, and the adequacy of surveillance and security protocols.
Decade of ‘dirty money’ at B.C. casinos
Last September — when an audit was released that revealed about $14 million in suspicious cash flowed through River Rock Casino in July 2015 — B.C. Attorney General David Eby called for an independent review of money laundering in B.C. casinos.
Reviewer Peter German, a former high-ranking RCMP officer, filed a scathing report pointing to a “decade of dirty money” in B.C. Lottery casinos.
German found that transnational organized crime networks with roots in China, Macau and Hong Kong, laundered at least $100 million through loan sharks and Chinese VIP gamblers, in high-limit private betting rooms.
German concluded casinos “unwittingly” allowed organized crime to launder money. And German called River Rock Casino the “epi-centre” of the activity.
Police and B.C. government documents suggest the laundered money was mostly drug-dealing cash. Eby has said that B.C.’s fentanyl and real-estate affordability crises are related to the casino money laundering.
According to a review of Great Canadian corporate documents, Campbell has been paid $841,131 in cash compensation from 2008 through 2017, for his services as a director. In addition, as a director, Campbell has been granted deferred Great Canadian Gaming shares, which at current share prices are valued at about $2.1 million.
Campbell has also been granted and sold a number of Great Canadian stock options, records show.
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Campbell refuses to answer questions
Global News has repeatedly asked Sen. Campbell to comment on German’s findings, and whether Campbell, whose job it is to oversee security, surveillance, and anti-money-laundering compliance for Great Canadian, takes any responsibility for the flood of suspicious cash at River Rock Casino.
On Tuesday in the House of Commons, Campbell climbed a set of stairs approaching Senate chambers, and paused to sign a document.
Global News approached and asked Campbell if he could comment on money laundering at River Rock, and whether he could be in a conflict of interest. Canadian senators are supposed to serve the public, and probe all issues of concern to Canadians. But as a corporate director with Great Canadian, Campbell has a duty to serve shareholders’ interests.
Campbell quickly retreated inside Senate chambers, refusing to answer questions.
Under Canada’s laws, senators are permitted to be directors in private corporations and to hold shares and receive compensation. If a vote comes up which may affect a senator’s private interest, they must recuse themselves. In the past, Campbell has recused himself due to his position with Great Canadian, from voting on a bill related to sports betting, the National Post has reported.
However, in a story that highlighted calls for reform, the Post quoted a number of ethics experts that have questioned whether Canadian senators can effectively serve two masters – the public and private business interests.
Global News has previously sought a sit-down interview with Campbell to probe these issues. For example, as serious public safety and social issues related to casino money laundering rock B.C., and polling numbers show mounting calls for a public inquiry, could Campbell effectively champion casino reforms that may be called for in B.C. society? Or would he, like many casino industry spokespersons have over the past year, claim that B.C. casinos are adequately complying with laws currently in place? Would he champion B.C. citizens, or Great Canadian shareholders? Campbell has refused to be interviewed.
Meanwhile, Great Canadian Gaming continues to be troubled by compliance issues, Global News has reported.
In April 2017, River Rock Casino managers were warned employees were shredding paper records of large cash transactions, according to documents and source interviews, opening up the possibility that high-rollers were avoiding scrutiny from Canada’s anti-money-laundering agency.
The alleged shredding is among a number of compliance issues connected to the casino’s VIP gambling business that B.C. Lottery Corp. management warned Great Canadian Gaming executives about at a meeting in April 2017, according to source interviews.
And new documents obtained by Global News in a freedom of information request, show that after the April 2017 meeting, B.C. Lottery Corp. director of anti-money-laundering investigations Ross Alderson forwarded a letter to B.C.’s finance ministry, listing a number of concerns about “River Rock Casino Resort compliance.”
“This is a troubling list of incidents,” a ministry official responded, in an email. “I am going to discuss with … senior people, and decide on action to be taken from our side.”
In response to allegations about document shredding and compliance at River Rock Casino, Great Canadian Gaming has stated, that the company “welcomes Dr. Peter German’s report and recommendations and we are working in conjunction with our regulators and crown partners to continue to enhance the anti-money laundering system for our industry.”
“Great Canadian and River Rock have not been the subject of any enforcement activity regarding our practices or track record for filing required reports.”
While B.C.’s Liberal Party has taken the brunt of the political heat for B.C.’s casino money-laundering crisis, Campbell has ties to the B.C. NDP, federal Liberals, and Vancouver’s Vision party.
Campbell started the Vision Vancouver party along with a group of political allies including his former chief of staff, Geoff Meggs. Meggs is now chief of staff for B.C. Premier John Horgan.
And Great Canadian was not the only casino-related company to donate to Vision in 2005.
The party also took in $170,000 from a company run by a Canadian lawyer. The lawyer ran an offshore company that processed billions in online gambling funds. In 2007, the lawyer and his company were charged by the FBI in an international money-laundering investigation, for allegedly washing the proceeds of illegal gaming.
The Vision donor, John Lefebvre, was convicted on money-laundering charges in 2011, U.S. court records show.