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B.C. money laundering inquiry hears former Lottery Corp. executive fire back at ‘disinformation’

Chips at the River Rock Casino in Richmond, B.C. .
Chips at the River Rock Casino in Richmond, B.C. . John Lehmann/Globe and Mail/The Canadian Press

B.C.’s money laundering inquiry heard Tuesday that Robert Kroeker — a former B.C. Lottery executive also previously responsible for compliance at a Richmond casino — plans to defend his actions and attack “disinformation” about B.C.’s casinos.

The Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering started this week with opening statements from stakeholders including B.C. Lottery Corp. and Great Canadian Gaming, the operator of Richmond’s River Rock Casino.

On Monday, Jacqueline Hughes, a lawyer for B.C.’s government, said that money laundering has distorted the province’s real estate market and driven the opioid overdose crisis.

Hughes said the public deserves to know who the players in B.C. casinos are and whether their actions have allowed money laundering to occur.

“Was there wilful blindness to what was going on, in favour of income generated for public or private persons?” Hughes asked.

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READ MORE: Secret police study finds crime networks could have laundered over $1B through Vancouver homes in 2016

However, a lawyer for Great Canadian Gaming Corp., which owns River Rock — the site called B.C.’s epicentre of casino money laundering by Peter German, the author of B.C.’s 2018 Dirty Money report — defended the company’s efforts on money laundering.

“Many public criticisms that have been made about its conduct and actions are factually unfounded or overly critical,” said Mark Skwarok.

On Tuesday, the commission heard that Kroeker — a lawyer and former police officer represented by prominent Canadian lawyer Marie Henein — took many actions against money laundering at River Rock Casino, where he worked from 2012 to 2015, and the Lottery Corp., where he worked from 2015 to 2019.

One of Kroeker’s lawyers, Christine Mainville, said Kroeker believes German’s Dirty Money report was flawed and inaccurate, and Kroeker also believes media reports about money laundering in B.C. casinos have included “disinformation.”

Mainville said that during Kroeker’s tenure at River Rock Casino and the Lottery Corp., B.C. has been recognized as a leader in anti-money laundering in Canada. Kroeker left his job as B.C.’s director of civil forfeiture in 2012, Mainville said, and after taking charge of compliance at River Rock Casino, he witnessed “diligent” efforts to record and track suspicious transactions.

Kroeker became aware of an RCMP investigation into money laundering in B.C. casinos in April 2015, Mainville said. And as soon as he joined the Lottery Corp. in September 2015, when he learned RCMP had information that proceeds of crime were being laundered in Lottery Corp. casinos, Kroeker took actions that coincided with a sharp decrease in suspicious cash transactions, Mainville said.

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Mainville added that B.C.’s casino regulator, the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch (GPEB), concluded in November 2019 that “an anonymous and malicious claim” that Kroeker had instructed staff to “ease up” on anti-money laundering at the Lottery Corp. was unfounded.

READ MORE: Fentanyl kings in Canada allegedly linked to powerful Chinese gang, the Big Circle Boys

On Monday Stephanie Smith, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, told the commissioner that her members “have experienced unique impacts, including seeing their livelihoods and personal safety threatened by the criminal activity that has been allowed, possibly even encouraged, to flourish in B.C.’s gaming sector.”Members include workers in GPEB, employees at River Rock and other casinos in Metro Vancouver.

Smith pointed to the case of Muriel Labine — a former casino supervisor who came forward with documents reported on by Global News.

Labine started to fear for her safety in the 1990s when gangs and loan sharks began openly operating in Great Canadian Gaming’s Richmond casino, Smith told the commissioner.

READ MORE: Former B.C. casino supervisor blows whistle on when Macau-style money laundering may have exploded

Smith added that her members decided to push B.C.’s government for an Inquiry, after a November 2018 Global News report on a secret police study made the link between fentanyl traffickers and real estate money laundering in Vancouver.

And Smith said her union plans to bring more whistleblower evidence to the commission, because “our members report that in many cases management are simply going through the motions (on anti-money laundering measures) … but making it clear to employees that these are unwanted requirements.”

The commission also heard Monday from Judith Hoffman, a lawyer for the federal government, who said that B.C.’s problem has received the most attention, but money laundering is a national issue.

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“Throughout Canada, there is widespread recognition that more must be done to combat this threat. Alongside the federal government, provincial and territorial governments have an important role to play,” she said.

Commissioner Cullen told Smith he will be looking into Canadian lawyers’ exemption from reporting to Fintrac, Canada’s anti-money laundering watchdog.