Transparency International Canada's Day of Dialogue in Vancouver has shed some light on a topic of interest to many political observers.
In a speech at the event, Attorney General David Eby said that he was unaware of a secret RCMP report into money laundering before hearing about it through Google News last month.
Moreover, Eby said that lawyer Peter German also didn't know about the report, which purported that crime networks funnelled more than $1 billion through the Vancouver real-estate market in 2016.
German, a former deputy commissioner of the RCMP, has been retained by the province to investigate money laundering in B.C. real estate. He also wrote the Dirty Money report into laundering of illicitly obtained cash in B.C. casinos.
Global News broadcast details of the RCMP report on November 26, only naming one person—Paul King Jin—who claimed to have discharged a mortgage on one property.
"We’ve asked our counterparts federally informally for a copy of the report and they have taken our request away and are working on that," Eby said. "And we will be forwarding a formal request for the report to them as well.
"I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t be willing to share it with us—including with whatever conditions are appropriate to protect privacy or investigative techniques, you name it.”
In addition, Eby encouraged any officials with knowledge of money laundering in real estate to contact the province's civil forfeiture office.
AG questions capacity to convict transnational organized criminals
Eby also revealed that lawyers from the Ministry of the Attorney General were in court on December 12 in connection with another recent controversy: the collapse of a high-profile money-laundering case on November 27.
The Public Prosecution Service of Canada stayed criminal charges against Richmond-based Silver International Investments Ltd. and two men—Caisuan Qin and Jain Jun Zhu—resulting from the RCMP's E-Pirate investigation several years ago.
Eby said the lawyers are resisting an application by the accused to have millions of dollars returned to them earlier than the law requires.
“I still remain concerned that British Columbia and Canada simply do not have the resources or capacity to investigate and convict—prosecute and convict—those involved in transnational organized crime and money laundering, which apparently the RCMP believes has infiltrated our real estate market in a serious way,” he acknowledged.
Despite the failure of this case, the attorney general expressed confidence in Bill Blair, the federal minister of border security and organized crime reduction.
“I understand that there’s a great deal of enthusiasm for moving on this at the federal level, which is very heartening," Eby said. "But the situation on the ground, as far as I can see, remains unchanged.”
Beneficial ownership rules could be changed
Eby also mentioned at today's event that the Ministry of Finance is looking into the issue of beneficial ownership.
Transparency International Canada pointed out in 2016 that only two provinces, Alberta and Quebec, require companies to reveal their beneficial owners.
In B.C., the Gordon Campbell government imposed greater secrecy by passing the Business Corporations Act, which severely limits ways in which the media and the public can find out who owns shell companies.
"I know that Transparency International Canada has already provided submissions to the finance minister on the beneficial ownership registry," Eby said. "There’s a white paper out for discussion.
"But I do want to let this room know—because of the expertise in the room—that...the engagement on additional issues that we should be addressing, best practices, and so on is open until January 31, 2019," he continued. "And so if you’re interested in providing submissions to the finance minister on that, I would encourage you to do so. Both review reports, the finance ministry report and Dr. German’s report, are due to government in the spring of 2019.”
The government has retained former deputy attorney general, Utrecht University economist Brigitte Unger, and UBC real-estate expert Tsur Somerville to make recommendations after hearing input from the public.
Eby didn't reveal if amendments would be introduced in the house to address corporate-secrecy measures in the Business Corporations Act.
However, he acknowledged that the Ministry of Finance "is well on its way to developing legislation based on feedback related to beneficial ownership".
"We want to send a very clear message that dirty money has no place in B.C.," he said. "So we have two ministries dedicating significant resources to addressing this issue.”