Feds launching new anti-money laundering units in B.C., Alberta, Ontario, Quebec

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Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says his government is funding nearly $100 million for new anti-money laundering units in Canada’s four largest provinces.

The government is aiming to have the new integrated money laundering investigative teams up and running in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec by the end of March, Blair told CKNW’s Lynda Steele Show, Friday.

Blair said the new units were “in direct response” to concerns raised in British Columbia’s Cullen Commission, a public inquiry investigating money laundering in the province.

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The inquiry has so far heard testimony alleging widespread money laundering in the province’s casinos, along with lax regulation.

“(B.C. Attorney General David Eby) often points out British Columbia needs dedicated expert resources to conduct these investigations and prosecute these very complex matters. And so we have now released $98.9 million in order to establish these four teams,” Blair said.

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“We also are providing them with new hardware updates for the data systems because data such an important part of these investigations.”

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Blair said developing the teams took about two years.

In its 2019 budget, the federal Liberal government committed $200 million over five years toward financial crime. That included $25 million for an ACE (Anti-money laundering action and co-ordination) team.

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Along with the new provincial integrated units, Blair said Ottawa was also creating a new organization in B.C. that would bring law enforcement officials together with representatives from industries targeted by money launderers.

The new Counter Illicit Finance Alliance will involve representatives from banking and credit card institutions, and could also include the casino and luxury real estate sectors, Blair said.

Previous reports by retired former Mountie Peter German found both casinos and the real estate market to be highly vulnerable to money launderers in B.C.

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Blair also responded to criticism from Austin Cullen, head of B.C.’s Cullen Commission who said in his interim report Wednesday that federal government agencies were obstructing access to important documents.

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Fintrac — the federal government’s financial crime agency — must always be careful with Canadians personal information, sometimes leading to delays, he said.

Blair added that the government can not compel federal prosecutors who do not wish to appear at the inquiry to testify.

But he pledged the government “will make sure that that the information the commission needs is available to them,” and noted that Cullen had acknowledged an improvement in the delivery of documents.

“I want to assure the commissioner our absolute commitment to cooperate fully and to participate in this in his inquiry,” Blair said.

“We’ll make sure that that all of the agencies understand the responsibility to provide information in a timely way to support the commission’s work.”

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