Commissioner Austin Cullen will hear from witnesses during an inquiry dedicated to an overview of money laundering and regulatory models, in a May 25, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Government trying to escape game of ‘catch up’ on dirty money: inquiry hears

Deputy solicitor general Mark Sieben said the proposal requires further scrutiny but has merit

British Columbia officials say it’s a challenge for government to keep up with a “smart and nimble” criminal economy that has seen money laundering flourish in the province.

Officials from the ministries of Finance, the Attorney General and the Solicitor General appeared Thursday before commissioner Austin Cullen, who is overseeing a public inquiry into money laundering.

They outlined measures the province has begun taking to stem the problem that government reports say has seen the proceeds of crime obscured through the real estate, gambling and other sectors.

In one case, the inquiry heard that an anti-money laundering committee of deputy ministers is considering a proposal for a multi-sector unit for enforcement and intelligence sharing.

Megan Harris, executive director and anti-money laundering secretariat lead, said the new unit would receive suspicious transaction reports and alerts from various sectors and service providers. It would also have enforcement powers.

That idea and others have been put on hold pending the Cullen commission’s conclusions and recommendations.

Deputy solicitor general Mark Sieben said the proposal requires further scrutiny but has merit. It has the benefit of being adapted to different sectors, unlike an intelligence and enforcement unit dedicated specifically to casinos, for example.

“The criminal economy is nimble and where there is strong enforcement action, the money tends to move to a new sector so our response then needs to be nimble as well,” Sieben said.

The unit would cost $15 million to $20 million a year, which Sieben said is no small amount for the government to consider so officials thought it prudent to put the idea on the back burner until the fact-gathering portion of the inquiry is done.

The Cullen commission heard opening arguments in February and the main hearings in September will delve into specific industries.

Attorney General David Eby has said he hopes it will answer lingering questions about how the criminal activity has infiltrated in the province.

Harris told the inquiry that the government has identified many obstacles in the fight against money laundering.

Regulators in real estate aren’t sharing information with gaming regulators, for example, and there are privacy concerns with encouraging that kind of sharing, she said.

The government’s own understanding of the problem is often limited to expert reports on particular sectors like the luxury car industry, but others like art dealing remain a blind spot, Harris added.

It’s also difficult for the government to keep up with rapidly evolving technology, although it’s working to understand how dirty money may be cleaned through cryptocurrency exchanges, Harris said.

And there’s concern that the public sees dirty money as a victimless crime, she said, even though the proceeds often come from an illicit drug trade linked with the deadly overdose crisis and the practice has affected house prices.

The officials are developing a 10-year plan that’s concentrated in the next four years to co-ordinate its response.

To go after money laundering, resources are needed but the secretariat and deputy ministers committee understand they need to be strategically placed in order to be effective, Sieben said.

“The criminal activity that’s generating revenue and the revenue itself changes fluidly and it’s to some degree a game of catch up in order to have the right money in the right strategy at the right time in order to successfully interrupt that.”

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

money laundering

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19: Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation asks Tofino businesses for support as emergency funding runs dry

“We need to pay for the work they do. It’s such important work.”

DFO says the five aggrieved B.C First Nations were consulted on fisheries plan

Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations calls response ‘a sham,’ adding DFO never incorporates their views

Three active COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island

Since July 24, Central island has had five new cases, North one, South none

Canada can lead the way to save sharks from extinction, says fisheries expert

“Combined with fishing extraction numbers, sharks experience huge losses in the environment.”

Five Vancouver Island First Nations call out Canada for ‘discriminatory’ food fish practices

West Coast nations say government ignoring court-won right to chinook and coho

B.C. records new COVID-19 death, 85 more cases; Horgan calls on celebrity help

This brings the total number of active confirmed cases to 531 across the province

Horvat scores 2 as Vancouver Canucks beat Blues 5-2 in NHL playoff opener

Game 2 in best-of-seven series goes Friday night

Old-growth forest defenders in Campbell River call for B.C. forest minister’s resignation

Protestors outside North Island MLA’s office ask government to stop old-growth logging

Teachers to get 2 extra days to prepare for students’ return, now set for Sept. 10

Students will first start with orientation and learn rules of COVID-19 classroom policies

High-volume littering at Cape Scott draws ire from hiking groups

Popular Vancouver Island hiking spot not closing, but frustration about crowding grows

SFU to drop ‘Clan’ varsity team name

The ‘Clan’ name is shortened from ‘Clansmen,’ and was introduced roughly 55 years ago

New Tory leader must build a strong team in Commons and for the campaign: Scheer

Scheer marked his final day in the House of Commons today as leader of the Opposition

B.C. to hire 500 more COVID-19 contact tracers ahead of fall

Contract tracers add an ‘extra layer’ in the fight against the novel coronavirus

More than $800,000 in suspected cocaine seized from ship near Victoria

RCMP Dive Team suspects more narcotics had been stored below ship’s waterline

Most Read