The Federal government is promising support for B.C.’s public inquiry into money laundering but can’t guarantee all federal officials will testify.
Appearing on Focus BC, Organized Crime Reduction minister Bill Blair said he has been working closely with the B.C. government on cracking down on money laundering.
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There have been concerns that the federal government would not be able to compel RCMP members, FINTRAC officials and Customs and Revenue Agency employees to provide testimony.
Blair did not directly answer the question over whether or not he will force federal officials to speak before the highly anticipated inquiry.
“I am not going to make any presumptions about what the inquiry will examine. But we will co-operate,” Blair said.
“I have ensured the Attorney General that we will co-operate and assist in the public inquiry in every way we can.”
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The B.C. Government announced on Wednesday they would hold an inquiry headed by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Austin F. Cullen. The federal government has been blamed for failing to provide police resources to address money laundering and inspecting suspicious housing transactions that could have been red flagged by federal agencies.
Blair says the Liberal government has invested significant money into the money laundering issue and the problems were able to fester because the previous government withdrew funding for specific anti-money laundering policing in B.C.
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“What we really need is national action and that is exactly what we are doing,” Blair said.
“We have taken steps to bring additional resources for the RCMP, CRA and FINTRAC. We have taken some very significant steps forward.”
There have been challenges in past inquiries of having RCMP officials testify. Blair says that, if called, officials will testify unless it has an impact on the current investigation.
“We will not compromise ongoing investigations of prosecutions,” Blair said.
“The simple answer is ‘yes.’ We have been working quite closely with Dr. Peter German and Attorney General Eby. I have been working with them for months. I am very confident we will be able to work with the inquiry to come up with recommendations that will actually make a difference.”
Blair also ruled out a federal public inquiry into money laundering, instead focusing on fixing the ongoing problems.
Former RCMP deputy commissioner Peter German’s review of money laundering in B.C.’s housing market found there are currently no dedicated federal RCMP officers in B.C. investigating criminal money laundering. Blair has committed to fixing this problem.
British Columbia is welcoming Ottawa’s support and wants to ensure that the correct agencies have the ability to appear before Justice Cullen.
“I have the assurance that full co-operation from Minister Blair and I am very grateful for that. I know that the government is and the Premier as well because there are a number of federal agencies that were supposed to be there to protect us,” Attorney General David Eby said.
“FINTRAC the anti-money laundering agency federally as the most obvious example. They did not protect us. And so that commitment of co-operation from the federal government is very important.”
Twin reports by Maureen Maloney and Peter German, released last week, revealed that in 2018, $7.4 billion in dirty money was laundered through British Columbia — and $5 billion of that money was funnelled through B.C.’s real estate market, driving already sky-high home prices up by at least five per cent.
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Global News investigations have revealed substantial laundering of fentanyl-trafficking proceeds from China through British Columbia casinos, real estate, and underground banks.
In March, the U.S. Department of State designated Canada as a “major money laundering country” where foreign drug-trafficking gangs are exploiting weak law enforcement and soft laws.
The recent report places Canada on a short list of countries vulnerable to significant drug money laundering transactions. Other countries include Afghanistan, the British Virgin Islands, China, Colombia, and Macau.
The report notes weaknesses in enforcement and prosecution — caused partly by Canada’s privacy laws and loopholes that allow Canadian lawyers to not report suspicious transactions.
According to the most recent data, from 2010 to 2014, only 169 charges of money laundering led to convictions in Canada, the report says.
— with files from Sam Cooper