Ontario Fraudster Siphoned Millions Through Casinos

Posted on: May 3, 2023, 07:11h. 

Last updated on: May 7, 2023, 05:53h.

Ontario’s gambling regulator has said it will investigate how a convicted fraudster was able to deposit and withdraw more than $4 million in cash over several years at Toronto-area casinos.

Kanapathipilla, Ontario casinos, money laundering
Branavan Kanapathipilla, above, gambled millions through Ontario casinos. Authorities seized his $100K buy-in from the Fallsview Casino. (Image: OPP)

Branavan Kanapathipilla has a criminal history involving convictions for fraud and other crimes that stretches back two decades, according to an affidavit by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP).

The court filing is part of an effort by authorities to seize $100K in cash deposited by Kanapathipilla last November at the Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls.

The deposit was flagged as a suspicious transaction by casino staff and seized by the OPP, which has accused Kanapathipilla of working with a loan shark.

STR Pile-up

The documents reveal that his activities have generated hundreds of suspicious transaction reports (STRs) by casinos and banks over the past 12 years, totaling $11 million.

One Toronto Gaming, which operates Casino Woodbine, Pickering Casino Resort, Great Blue Heron Casino and Hotel, and Casino Ajax in Ontario, reported 120 suspicious transactions by Kanapathipilla totaling more than $3 million in 2021 and 2022 alone.

“Records obtained from a production order relating to Kanapathipillai’s TD Bank accounts indicate a history of Kanapathipillai depositing a large amount into his account and then making multiple cash withdraws via both the teller and the ATM,” wrote Det. Constable Vic Jetvic in the affidavit. “His withdrawal and financial transaction patterns were consistent with money laundering techniques that I have observed as an investigator.”

While this pattern is highly consistent with money laundering, Kanapathipilla’s lawyer, James Foy, told Casino.org his client has not been accused of money laundering, nor has he been charged by authorities with any crime.

“Mr. Kanapathipillai wants to help the police. He has been cooperating with their investigation and will continue to do so in the civil forfeiture process,” Foy said in a statement to Casino.org. “He is looking forward to his day in court which he fully expects will result in the return of his lawfully obtained money.”

Slow to React

This week, the Anti-Money Laundering Unit of Ontario’s Alcohol and Gaming Commission (AGCO) said it would initiate a compliance review to assess whether casino operators met their regulatory obligations. But some question whether the blame lies with regulators rather than operators, since the casinos consistently filed STRs in line with their regulatory responsibilities.

Retired RCMP money laundering specialist Garry Clement told CTV News that the casinos’ financial reports weren’t being acted on fast enough.

“These seem pretty obvious,” he said. “There’s more to this than just gambling.”

British Columbia has been forced to address the problem of widescale money laundering through its casinos and real estate markets. That’s after the province was accused of becoming a “laundromat for organized crime” in an independent report commissioned by the provincial government.

In 2019, a BC government inquiry concluded that casino money laundering was “not just a BC problem,” and called for a federal investigation into the issue.

An earlier version of this article inaccurately stated that Kanapathipilla had “fled” Canada. It has been amended to reflect statements by his lawyer that he remains in the country and is cooperating with a police investigation while challenging civil forfeiture process.