Elite B.C., Ontario crime network laundering ‘hundreds of millions’ a year, inquiry hears

Commissioner Austin Cullen listens to introductions before opening statements at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia, in Vancouver, on Feb. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

British Columbia and Ontario provide a base of operations for an elite network of professional money launderers identified by police in 2019 and washing “upwards of hundreds of millions” per year, B.C.’s Cullen Commission into money laundering heard this week.

While Global News has reported on sophisticated transnational money-laundering networks that are operating separately in Ontario and B.C., this is the first indication from Canadian police that such an operation has merged between the two provinces.

The Cullen Commission heard from RCMP Chief Supt. Rob Gilchrist, director general of Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, that B.C. appears to have more high-level organized crime groups and professional money-laundering networks than any other province.

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

Among 14 criminal groups assessed as high-level national threats, 10 are linked to B.C., the inquiry heard. Gilchrist said three of the four high-level threat groups in Canada that were assessed in 2019 as being linked to money laundering for international drug traffickers were connected to B.C.

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The elite network operating out of Ontario and B.C. described by Gilchrist seems to echo the money-laundering blueprint used by the international loan-sharking network targeted in E-Pirate, an RCMP investigation into B.C. casino money laundering, drug trafficking and underground banks linked to mainland China.

Gilchrist did not associate the Ontario-B.C. criminal group with any previously named organizations but detailed its operations.

“This network represents several service providers, nationally and internationally, that conduct self-laundering and third-party money laundering,” he said. Gilchrist said the group involves highly experienced career criminals that use casinos, underground banks, real estate, shell companies, nominees and trade-based money laundering to wash money for many different criminal organizations.

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Trade-based money laundering was a method recognized by E-Pirate investigators.

In E-Pirate, the RCMP said a Richmond underground bank was using fake trade invoices from Chinese companies to cover wire transfers to banks in Mexico or Peru. This way, drug traffickers could ship cocaine into Canada using wire transfers from banks without having to travel to Latin America.

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Gilchrist said the professional money-laundering network operating from Ontario and B.C. is likely laundering well over hundreds of millions per year, but it is hard to quantify exact amounts.

Gilchrist’s testimony also underlined what experts involved in the RCMP’s E-Pirate investigation have told Global News. The transnational cartel targeted in E-Pirate appears to have quickly adjusted its money-laundering methods and moved into other Canadian provinces.

READ MORE: B.C. disbanded RCMP unit after report warned possible crime figure bought stake in casino

Gilchrist said the service believes public scrutiny on B.C. casinos and new “source of funds” laws introduced in 2018 have caused methods of money laundering to evolve and that criminals are now targeting casinos “in other Canadian provinces, where similar regulations don’t exist.”

The inquiry also heard that B.C.’s port access and proximity to Mexico make it a natural gateway for illicit drugs to travel into other parts of Western Canada and that organizations assessed as high-level threats in B.C. engage in multiple criminal activities and have interprovincial and international connections.

“Organized crime groups out of B.C. are often supplying drugs into other provinces,” Gilchrist said. “In many ways, B.C. is a gateway.”

Meanwhile, the inquiry also heard that the B.C. and Yukon Criminal Intelligence Service branch is not focused on money-laundering threats because the service finds it difficult to hire analysts.

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“I’m not going to lie,” said Insp. Leslie Stevens, of the service’s B.C. and Yukon bureau. “Part of the issue is we have no parking and the nature of the work is not that interesting.”

— With a file from Canadian Press

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