First it was $1 billion a year (maybe) being laundered through Lower Mainland casinos and real estate. Then it became $5 billion (maybe) in real estate alone for 2018.
These dramatic, expanding estimates have persuaded Premier John Horgan and Attorney General David Eby to put aside their serious concerns about cost and a lack of actual charges against actual crooks, and reluctantly agree with a strange chorus demanding a public inquiry into B.C. money laundering.
Eby and Finance Minister Carole James finally released two thick investigation reports this month, trying to quantify the “dirty money” in B.C.’s economy. You may have heard the most shocking conclusion, that billions were (maybe) poured into Metro Vancouver real estate, pushing up housing costs by (maybe) as much as five per cent.
The real estate report, from a panel of academics headed by former NDP deputy minister Maureen Maloney, weighed in at 184 pages. As fellow academic Murtaza Haider pointed out, “the report does not identify a single laundered dollar or account with laundered money or even a single purchase of property purchased using ill-gotten wealth.”
It used computer models and international estimates of crime, going back as far as 1995, extrapolated to Canada and then its provinces.
Contracted investigator Peter German’s first “Dirty Money” report dealt with B.C. casinos, estimating that laundering through them may have been as much as $100 million. No one really knows, because among other things, high rollers return to gamble their winnings, running the same money through again. (After all the attention on the River Rock Casino in Richmond, German now allows that this activity has mostly disappeared.)
German’s second report, among its 360 pages, deals with a Global TV news story last November. It quoted an unnamed police source saying money laundering may be 10 times as big as previously estimated, up to $1 billion in 2016 alone. Eby frequently cites this story, and indeed has developed a fawning mutual admiration society with Global TV for its supposedly ground-breaking work.
Responding to German’s inquiries about this TV story, the RCMP allowed that it has classified reports with similar estimates of real estate activities. It refused to release them even to German, himself a former senior RCMP investigator.
German’s conclusion, based on limited disclosure of RCMP data gathering methods, is this:
“The figures now in common parlance are of $1 billion or more per year of dirty money being ploughed into B.C. real estate, and of equally large sums being laundered through casinos. Unfortunately, without actually quantifying these amounts using a generally accepted model and having access to the necessary data, all estimates are guesses.”
The RCMP further contradicted this TV story, saying its still-classified report of high-end real estate purchases over two years does not focus on organized crime actors and does not measure money laundering. In short, this award-winning TV story was bogus.
In an odd move, Global TV joined the B.C. Green Party, the B.C. Government Employees Union and other partisan actors in the chorus of demands for this inquiry. Horgan and Eby had given many solid reasons why a long lawyer festival with no authority to lay charges would be a waste of time and millions.
But now they’ve decided it’s a great idea to stage an inquiry that will put previous government members on the stand, just months before the next scheduled election in the fall of 2021. They’re hoping for compliant TV coverage of that too.
Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press Media. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org