B.C.’s luxury car market is being used to launder the proceeds of crime, former RCMP officer Peter German says in his report to the B.C. government on money laundering.
High-end vehicles bought with cash or bank drafts are being bought and sold by “straw buyers” or nominees and exported offshore, German’s report says. The “grey market” activity shows up in B.C. sales tax records, where tax is paid and then large numbers of tax rebates are applied for and paid.
“This report is disturbing confirmation that money laundering in B.C. is a problem that goes beyond our casinos,” said B.C. Attorney General David Eby, who released parts of the investigation dealing with vehicles and horse racing Tuesday.
“In the luxury car market, there is no financial reporting of large cash purchases, no oversight of international bank wire transfers and no apparent investigation or enforcement. It’s all a recipe for exactly what happened here – Vancouver becoming North America’s luxury car capital, generally, and perhaps North America’s used luxury car export capital too.”
The cash purchase or sale of vehicles is legal, but if the source of the money can be traced to criminal activity it is a serious offence, German said.
Regulations are being changed in B.C. to remove the onus on prosecutors to prove that the source of money is criminal, requiring only that they demonstrate the use of money was “reckless,” Eby said.
The sales tax records show “straw buyers” buying multiple cars and selling them through the same exporters. “It was a surprise to us” to hear that grocery bags of cash were being brought into dealerships, German said.
Former Vancouver Police deputy chief Doug LePard helped in the investigation. He described car dealership staff accepting cash from buyers, and then helping them arrange for tax rebates.
Finance ministry staff report that they have seen a “dramatic increase” in rebate applications for vehicles destined for sale abroad. Before 2014, fewer than 100 vehicles received the rebate, and by 2016 the number of rebates had jumped to 3,674 vehicles.
In 2016 alone, a single “straw buyer” bought 29 vehicles, 48 buyers made between 11 and 29 purchases and 1,000 of these buyers were linked to the same exporter. Since 2013, the province has paid $85 million in rebates for exported vehicles.
Eby said buying and selling race horses has a long history of acting as a vehicle for converting and transporting cash. Activity at Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver and Fraser Downs harness racing track in Surrey did not turn up evidence of suspicious transactions, he said.