Add Andrew Weaver to the growing list of people calling for a public inquiry into money laundering.
The Green Party leader, along with his caucus, called for an independent public inquiry into the issue of money laundering on Tuesday.
“We are calling for an immediate public inquiry into money laundering in B.C. to remove the investigation from partisan influence, protect the public interest and restore public trust,” Weaver said. “The B.C. Green Caucus does not ask for this lightly. However, the financial impact money laundering has had — and that it continues to have — on the province is staggering: the federal Ministry of Finance estimates the problem at $1 billion annually.”
The City of Vancouver has officially called for a public inquiry on money laundering. City councillors unanimously backed a motion proposed by One City Coun. Christine Boyle.
The Vancouver motion calls on the provincial government to launch the inquiry once Peter German’s latest money-laundering probe returns its final report, expected in March.
Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West has also been vocal in his calls for an inquiry.
The B.C. government is still considering a full-blown inquiry. Attorney General David Eby has acknowledged the public wants to see an inquiry where blame can be assigned for billions of dollars that are alleged to have been funnelled through casinos and the housing market.
“There is a huge interest from British Columbians. I am hearing that and I know my cabinet colleagues are hearing it as well,” Eby said earlier this month. “The premier has been very clear a public inquiry is still a possibility in our province.”
Global News has conducted extensive interviews with the casino industry sources, and also reviewed documents and court testimony from several of the sources. The estimate is that up to $2 billion of laundered money has flowed through B.C. Lottery Corp. casinos.
WATCH (aired February 8): David Eby acknowledges ‘huge’ public interest in money laundering inquiry
The B.C. government has hired Peter German to conduct a follow-up report from his 2018 investigation that looked into money laundering in casinos. The latest report will look into laundering in real estate, the luxury car market and at horse racing tracks.
What’s also up in the air is the timing of a possible inquiry. Provincial prosecutors are still working their way through a money laundering case that could lead to charges. Eby says he is concerned an inquiry could compromise the investigation.
WATCH: B.C. Attorney General David Eby says there is a ‘real gap’ to deal with money laundering crimes
The government has also ruled out any decision on an inquiry until after German has conducted his investigation. There is a parallel Ministry of Finance investigation that is going on as well, and that is also due back to the government at the end of March.
“We were clear from the very beginning about why we have taken the approach of doing reviews into money laundering versus a public inquiry. We can move faster. We can get the information we need, and we can stop the activity that is actually taking place in British Columbia,” Eby said on Tuesday in Question Period is response to Weaver.
“We saw that in the casino file. We were able to stop the activity of bringing bulk cash into the casinos very quickly as a result of a review. A public inquiry takes longer to get to those kinds of results. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have the same questions that the member has about who knew what when, what kind of accountable should there be and the kinds of questions that can be answered through a public inquiry. What it does mean is that we need to take action to stop the activity as quickly as we can.”
Eby says German’s report has already dug up some concerning information about ongoing money laundering.
“The member knows that Dr. German is currently working on questions related to horse racing, luxury cars and real estate,” Eby said.
“I can tell the member that Dr. German is already uncovering some very disturbing information that’s causing government to take action and enabling us to take quick action. I’m very grateful for Dr. German doing that kind of work for us. But that does not exclude the possibility of a public inquiry.
The Greens, who are providing legislative support to keep the minority NDP government afloat, are pushing for the inquiry as the most effective way to have a broad scope, functioning outside of partisan influences or criminal jurisdictions.
Public inquiry investigations can involve interviews, oral testimony and commissioners can have the power to subpoena witnesses.
“Although inquiries are not courts, they often exist alongside criminal investigations — such as the Charbonneau Commission in 2011 — supplementing those criminal charges with real, actionable recommendations to identify, reduce and prevent such events from happening again,” Weaver said.
“An inquiry of this nature will take time, but so too did this money laundering scheme with evidence going back at least a decade. And the financial repercussions of a skyrocketing housing market and the devastating impacts of the opioid epidemic on the health and wellbeing of British Columbians will possibly span many years into the future.”
— With files from Sam Cooper