Cullen Commission: Report on BC Casino Drug-Money Laundering to Drop Soon

Posted on: June 6, 2022, 07:14h. 

Last updated on: June 6, 2022, 10:36h.

In British Columbia, the Cullen Commission has completed its report into historical money laundering at provincial casinos following a three-year investigation.

BC money laundering
BC Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen has spent three years determining the extent of British Columbia’s money laundering problem and whether government officials should have done more to stop it. (Image: Agassiz-Harrison Observer

The 1,804-page document has now been handed to the provincial government for review. Its findings will be released to the public soon, according to The Globe and Mail.

BC Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen was appointed to lead the commission in 2019. That was in response to several official reports that indicated that money laundering linked to the drugs trade was an endemic problem from around 2010 to 2016.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are believed to have been washed through British Columbia’s casino, real estate, and luxury vehicle sectors in that time, contributing to the rise in property prices and the opioid problem.

Willful Ignorance?

The commission cross-examined around 200 witnesses, including former BC Premier Christy Clark and other former and current high-ranking government politicians. It has also heard from police officers, gaming regulators, casino officials, and financial crime experts.

Part of the commission’s remit is to determine whether the previous provincial government and operator-regulator BC Lottery Corp (BCLC) willfully ignored the problem to maximize revenues for the province.

As a state-owned company that runs around 40 casinos, community gaming centers, and bingo halls, critics say the BCLC’s regulatory role could be a conflict of interest.

The commission heard from a former BCLC investigator, who was told by his superiors to “cut that sh*t out” after he questioned high rollers at the River Rock Casino about the source of their funds.

Vancouver Model

River Rock, in Richmond, Vancouver, is the province’s biggest casino, and investigators have claimed it was a hotbed of money laundering. It was not uncommon for VIPs to arrive at the casino with hundreds of thousands of dollars in low denomination bills stuffed into suitcases, boxes, and bags.

That’s according to a report uncovered by Attorney General David Eby, which had either been ignored or suppressed by the previous administration. Eby had been shocked to discover the extent of the problem when he came into office in 2016.

It was bad enough that that the system used by criminals to launder drug money through the VIP gaming market was known as the “Vancouver model” by the international intelligence community.

Silver International

One major Vancouver model player was allegedly Silver International, a currency exchange firm that was a front for an underground bank, according to prosecutors.

Silver reputedly washed up to $250 million a year through British Columbia’s casinos. Prosecutors claimed it had ties to the drug trade in South America, the fentanyl factories of China’s Guangdong province, and to Middle Eastern criminal gangs with links to terrorist financing.

The case against Silver collapsed in November 2018. Its operator, Jain Jun Zhu, died in a hail of bullets in September 2020.