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

Windows broken, racist graffiti left on Summerland home

Family says nothing like this has happened since they moved to Summerland in 1980s

Oliver cherry farm allowed to continue operating following positive COVID-19 cases

Interior Health not concerned about health risk to individuals consuming products from farm

Morning Start: Big Bertha is the oldest cow to ever live

Your morning start for Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Two positive COVID-19 cases at Oliver farm

The risk of exposure to the general public related to this farm is considered to be low

Oliver Town Hall closed to public as staffer shows COVID-19 symptoms

One staff member at Oliver Town Hall is being tested for coronavirus

Sources say Canada, U.S. likely to extend mutual travel ban into late August

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hinted at the possibility after a phone call with U.S. President

B.C. man who went by ‘Doctor Ray Gaglardi’ charged with sex assault of teenage boys

The man, 75, is accused of assaulting teenage boys he met through Coquitlam-area churches

B.C.’s potential deficit $12.5 billion as spending spikes, taxes drop

Finance Minister Carole James gives COVID-19 outlook

Rare comet NEOWISE and aurora lights captured in Okanagan

The image was captured over Big Horn Lake near Kelowna with a Pixel 4XL android phone

‘We know people are going to come to Kelowna’: Mayor addresses COVID-19 cluster

The mayor said people need to continue following the advice of the medical health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry

City of Kelowna to hold funds for 2023 Memorial Cup bid

$135,000 of the city’s initial $225,000 commitment to the tournament will be held for a future bid

Vernon Search and Rescue aids injured Okanagan Rail Trail cyclist

Group’s Utility Terrain Vehicle proving to be a valuable asset on the popular trail

Hitchhiker with metal pipe prompts RCMP to close of Highway 1 near Salmon Arm

Police respond to report of man who pointed what was believed to be a rifle at passing driver

Canadians torn on scaling back COVID-19 benefits to save money: poll

Of those surveyed, 78 per cent said they were worried about the size of the deficit

Most Read