The federal government is failing in its obligation to provide important documents for B.C.’s provincial inquiry into money laundering, as said by the inquiry’s commissioner.
On Thursday, Austin Cullen issued his first report and commented on the inquiry’s mandate and the evidence produced so far. He said that the commissioner’s lawyers have established a good framework to probe money laundering in B.C. and that most of the parties with standing to testify in the hearings are co-operating.
Cullen has rebuked the federal government for obstructing commission lawyer’s attempts to access the important records. This is a problem because Ottawa controls several agencies playing crucial roles in combating money laundering that includes the RCMP, Fintrac, Canada Revenue Agency, and the federal prosecution service.
Cullen stated that one area of concern involves Canada’s compliance with its obligation to identify the character of documents in its possession. Many federal agencies have been slow to comply with these obligations and the lists that have been produced often appear to be incomplete.
He singled out Fintrac, the intelligence agency on anti-money laundering that is controlled by the federal finance ministry.
Cullen wrote that Fintrac’s initial list of documents was composed entirely of materials that were publicly available on its website, even though it generates a wide range of specialized strategic research for regime partners. Moreover, when the Commission Counsel had raised that point, Fintrac had added seven documents to its list and had taken the position that its document production obligations were incomplete.
He stated that there are many documents provided by Ottawa that have been redacted to the point that they provide no meaningful information.
The inquiry is not permitted to interview the federal prosecutors. David Eby, B.C. Attorney General stated that he was incredibly concerned about Fintrac’s reported reticence to cooperate.
He said that he is unable to understand why the federal government’s anti-money laundering agency that has a mandate to prevent money laundering is not falling over itself to provide information to the anti-money laundering inquiry.
Eby said that Fintrac has been collecting data on large cash transactions and plays an important role in any response as it is responsible for connecting the dots between the criminal organizations. Eby added that he has spoken with federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair who has reportedly assured that he would seek better cooperation from the agency.
Cullen did not point to the evidence that has been heard in the testimony, which includes the allegations that senior B.C. officials turned a blind eye to organized crime laundering massive amounts of suspected drug cash, because money pouring into casinos through loan sharks was good for revenue.
The inquiry has also heard that the B.C. government employees have allowed the VIP high-rollers to bend Fintrac’s laws because the casino owners did not want to offend the high-value customers. The inquiry has heard that the vast majority of the VIPs were Chinese nationals that gambled in B.C. government casinos with cash provided by loan sharks and the loans were repaid in China to organized crime.
This means that even if the VIPs lost their bets the money was laundered for the loan sharks that provided them the cash.
Cullen suggested that he already has evidence to answer one of the basic questions that his interim report had to access that is, is money laundering even a problem worth examining.
Cullen wrote that money laundering is an issue of great importance to the citizens of British Columbia and it is a crime that strikes at the heart of their collective values and corrupts the fabric of a free and democratic society. The inquiry shall continue in 2021.