Cullen Commission: BC Casino Dirty Money Hearings Wrap Up, Findings in December

Posted on: October 20, 2021, 09:40h. 

Last updated on: October 20, 2021, 10:09h.

British Columbia held the final hearing of its exhaustive investigation into money laundering in its casinos on Tuesday.

Cullen Commission
Commissioner Austin Cullen, pictured, has 70,000 pages of evidence to pore over between now and December. (Image: The Canadian Press)

Now, two years after it began and 198 witness testimonies later, commissioner Austin Cullen, a former BC Supreme Court judge, has until December 15 to deliver his findings.

The commission was established after an explosive report by former Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) deputy commissioner Peter German blew the lid off the issue.

German concluded that hundreds of millions of dollars in dirty cash had been washed through BC casinos in the preceding 15 years, contributing to the province’s opioid epidemic.

He described a system used by criminals that had come to be known by the international intelligence community as “the Vancouver Model.”

Big Bags of Cash

This involved underground banks helping Chinese high rollers move money out of China and swerve the strict capital controls imposed by Beijing. Prior to departing for BC, the high rollers would pay money into legitimate Chinese bank accounts controlled by the criminal group.

On their arrival on Canadian soil, they would be presented with dirty money in suitcases or duffel bags, often in $20 bills, which they would then convert into chips at BC casinos. The chips could then be exchanged for clean money from the casino, usually in the form of a check.

Cullen will also determine whether the BC Lottery Corp (BCLC) and the BC government officials deliberately ignored warnings about a money laundering epidemic. That was allegedly done to protect revenues they received from the casinos, as whistle-blowers have alleged.

‘No Evidence’ for Vancouver Model Claim

In final arguments, lawyers for the casinos and the BCLC claimed there was “no evidence” that the Vancouver Model existed.

“To this extent, the province appears to concur with BCLC that the extent of ‘money laundering that has occurred in BC casinos is unknown, and no specific cash accepted at a BCLC casino has been established in this inquiry to actually be the proceeds of crime,” BCLC lawyer Bill Smart said.

This is despite BC prosecutors in 2018 pursuing criminal charges against Silver International, a Richmond currency exchange they accused of being a front for a Vancouver Model operation with links to the drugs trade.

But the case against Silver collapsed after prosecution lawyers accidently released the name of a supposedly anonymous witness. A judge ruled that to continue would place the witness “at risk of death.”

In September 2020, Silver boss Jian Jun Zhu was assassinated by a gunman as he dined at a restaurant in Richmond.

Incendiary Report

In their denouement on Tuesday, lawyers for the federal government produced a confidential RCMP “investigational planning report” from 2012 that had not previously been presented.

The document describes extensive undercover surveillance of casino high rollers and loan sharks at BC casinos from 2010 to 2012.

The RCMP claimed Richmond’s River Rock Casino and New Westminster’s Starlight Casino “are a very significant source of money-laundering activity, using wealthy People’s Republic of China gamblers as willing pawns in their activity.”

“Tens of millions of dollars in large cash-transactions (many transactions well over $100,000, much of it in $20 bills) are funneled-through several of the larger casinos in B.C on an annual basis,” it concluded. “Intelligence has revealed that the origin of much of these funds are derived from criminal activity and are the Proceeds of Crime.”