So far, so good – Commissioner Austin Cullen hasn’t heard any clear-cut allegations or admissions of corruption through the six-week-long inquiry into British Columbia casinos.
The Government and the Police Have Yet to Testify
The politicians responsible who have not yet testified are; John van Dongen, Rich Coleman, Shirley Bond, and Michael De Jong. Collectively, they were responsible for gambling activities in B.C. between 2008 and 2014.
Cullen was also expecting to hear more on the matter of law enforcement, but since the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is a federal entity it is still unclear how much information will be provided on specific investigations.
Moreover, evidence that suggests regulatory failures and inefficient adherence to laws and policies has been provided, a result of miscommunication, slow bureaucratic responses, and purported willful ignorance.
It’s presumed that the Commissioner will submit a final report on the matter sometime during this year. He’s undertaken the responsibility to find out the extent and methods of money laundering in six economic sectors including any additional factors that might perpetuate or play a role in the illegal act.
The six parties potentially involved in money laundering are the government, the police, the casino operator British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC), the regulating Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch (GPEB), casinos, and gamblers.
The Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in B.C. has received information on how the government expanded casinos and kept a cash-only buy-in policy that is known to attract organized crime. Beginning around 2008, low-level investigators at GPEB and BCLC raised concerns over drug cash being used by gamblers. Although up until 2015, when an investigation into a multinational crime network began, the RCMP remained indifferent.
The Only Known Investigation into Casino Money Laundering
The Inquiry has yet to hear testimony from RCMP who were involved in E-Pirate; the complex 2015 investigation famous for holding the title as the only public casino money laundering inquisition launched.
Both commission counselors Patrick McGowan and Allison Latimer have made an inquiry based on the alleged findings of the E-Pirate investigation – that money from the drug trade in Vancouver flowed through underground bank operators and casinos in Richmond on behalf of transnational crime groups.
If gamblers won, regulatory and enforcement gaps would make it possible for them to launder their money. If they lost, the cash could be repaid by other means including asset transfer to China via a partner of the local underground bank.
Additionally, plenty of testimony was given during the inquiry on how Chinese nationals or locals used the drug trade money to gamble and evade China’s currency control which is laundering in itself according to officials.
Suspicious Transactions Quadrupled Between 2011 and 2014
A report from GPEB shows suspicious transactions increased from $40 million in 2011 to $174 million in 2014, most of which was in $20 bills even though there was underreporting in some casinos. However, the casinos and BCLC have voiced that these transaction records alone are not definitive proof of money laundering activity.
Cullen was aware of strong connections between licensed casino employees and gamblers who often brought in bags full of $20 bills.
It’s quite clear that GPEB and BCLC officials were not on the same page. While GPEB argued that their concerns were either ignored or actioned slowly, the BCLC criticized GPEB for not urging them to utilize official government directives. Meanwhile, both organizations had gone years without having their respective examiners question gamblers about the origin of the money.
Specific allegations won’t be examined as part of the inquiry so it’s unclear yet as to how much information will be released on the E-Pirate investigation.
BCLC and the casinos have maintained that their obligation was to report all transactions but it was up to the police and regulators to gather the information, make changes to policies, and bring up criminal charges where necessary.
Inquiry instigator David Eby (B.C. NDP Attorney General) is also under fire from BCLC officials, being accused of potentially hobbling the new anti-money laundering measures in tandem with Peter German (former RCMP executive) for political gains.
Moving forward, the focus for the commission gravitates towards real estate as a four-week money laundering investigation for that sector is due to commence.