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Calls grow for public inquiry into connections between money laundering, organized crime

FILE: B.C. Attorney General David Eby gestures while showing a video of bundles of cash brought to a casino by a person, after releasing an independent review of anti-money laundering practices during a news conference in Vancouver, on Wednesday June 27, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A financial crime lawyer says public deserves to know the truth, after charges were stayed in a money laundering case

Christine Duhaime believes it's important to figure out how deep the money laundering issue actually runs in B.C.

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) – There are growing calls for the B.C. government to take immediate action to figure out the truth about the impacts of money laundering in this province.

The calls come after we learned Wednesday that charges were stayed against two men suspected of laundering large amounts of money through B.C. casinos, in a high-profile case that has drawn much attention.

“Staying a charge is not all that unusual,” lawyer Christine Duhaime explains. “It is really unusual in a case that’s significant with as much of a high profile, with this much attention.”

She says the attention given to this case has been quite significant, and adds that is likely because it’s a case that combines a number of different factors that matter to British Columbians.

“It combines money laundering allegations with the gambling issue in Vancouver, with real estate, with money from offshore — allegedly from China, with gangs. All of the problems that seem to be affecting Vancouver and British Columbia generally.”

Related article: B.C. to probe money laundering ‘red flags’ in real estate, horse racing

In a time where the public is learning more and more about the depth of the money laundering issue, Duhaime says the current controversy points to predictability.

“I think, to be honest with you, the writing was on the wall and I think that’s one of the unfortunate things,” she tells NEWS 1130. “I think this was predictable, and the police have said that.”

The RCMP says it will conduct its own “full-scale” investigation to figure out what went wrong.

However, Duhaime says the message that is being sent when charges are stayed in a case this big is that “Vancouver is open for money laundering.”

“The moment that as a society we don’t follow the law, we don’t enforce it, we let it slide — especially when it comes to money laundering, when it comes to criminal activity — we send a message by not prosecuting or by not dealing seriously with that.”

Unless things turn around, Duhaime believes places like Vancouver will become not only a “money laundering safe-haven,” but also a place where people will come to traffic a “significant drugs, that at the end of the day are going to hurt all British Columbians.”

So what is the solution? Duhaime suggests the federal government needs to get involved — by investing in prosecution and anti-money laundering initiatives around this province.

“To send a message of deterrence that Vancouver’s not that place where you come to commit crimes and get away with it.

Related article: Federal support to help B.C. crack down on money laundering welcomed by observers

On the RCMP’s plan to look into why charges were stayed, Duhaime speculates it almost suggests there may have been an issue with evidence.

“And I think that everyone just was really surprised by that because this is what the RCMP does. There aren’t normally gaps in the way they collect the evidence or in what evidence they’ve gathered, so I think we’re all left speculating and we don’t understand what the issue was.”

She says British Columbians deserve to know the truth, and believes having a public inquiry would satisfy the public and government that something is being done.

Duhaime adds it can help people talk about what they see as issues, and understand just how big the money laundering issue is as well as how far it reaches.

“People are saying now it’s connected to the fentanyl crisis, how is that connection working? What about the connection to organized crime?” she says.

“An actual public inquiry, where it’s set up and there’s actual testimony that comes in. I think very much that this Charbonneau commission in Quebec would be really a welcomed move for the province and I think would really get us on the right path to turning things around.”

According to the province, Crown counsel may re-start the prosecution within one year of the stay. That time frame is within six months of the incident that led to charges for a less serious charge.

If the prosecution is not picked back up within those times, the matter is over.