The B.C. government has appointed B.C. Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen to head an inquiry into the explosive growth of money laundering, estimated by investigators to have reached $7 billion in 2018.
“This inquiry will bring answers about who knew what when, and who is profiting from money laundering in our province,” Attorney General David Eby said Wednesday.
Cullen will have powers to compel testimony and issue search warrants to collect records, Eby said, after two investigations into real estate, luxury car reselling and other illegal activities encountered people who refused to cooperate.
The commission of inquiry has been asked to produce an interim report within 18 months and a final report by May 2021, but Premier John Horgan acknowledged that costs and even the duration of the independent inquiry are not yet known.
Horgan said the purpose of the inquiry is to get control of drug trafficking and criminal investment inflating the price of B.C. real estate by as much as five per cent, not to assign political blame. But the final report is scheduled to emerge less than six months before the next scheduled B.C. election.
“Perhaps other governments were intoxicated by the revenues that kept coming in,” Horgan said. “There’s certainly evidence of that.”
The province does not have authority to compel testimony from the RCMP or FINTRAC, the federal agency that monitors suspicious cash transactions, which Eby said has let B.C. down in monitoring activity in casinos and other areas of suspicious money movement.
Horgan said he has informed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Bill Blair, federal minister for border security and organized crime, that the inquiry is going ahead, and is expecting full cooperation from them.
The province does not have authority to compel testimony from the RCMP or FINTRAC, the federal agency that monitors suspicious cash transactions. Eby said FINTRAC has let B.C. down in monitoring activity in casinos and other areas of international money movement, and he was appalled to find that the RCMP had no dedicated investigators looking money laundering in B.C., other than referring cases for civil forfeiture actions.
Horgan and Eby have repeatedly argued against holding an inquiry before individuals are prosecuted for their actions. The RCMP’s one major prosecution against a Richmond financial firm with ties to China was abandoned in November 2018, and the province is pursuing a civil forfeiture case to seize assets from the company’s owners.
The civil forfeiture case alleges that the married couple laundered money for customers including drug traffickers importing cocaine.