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Money laundering in B.C. estimated at $1B a year — but reports were not shared with province, AG says

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Documents that say money laundering in British Columbia now reaches into the billions of dollars are startling to the province’s attorney general, who says the figures have finally drawn the attention of the federal government.

David Eby said he’s shocked and frustrated because the higher estimates appear to have been known by the federal government and the RCMP, but weren’t provided to the B.C. government.

He said he recently spoke to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale about information gaps concerning cash being laundered in B.C. and he’ll be meeting next week with Minister of Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair.

« I’ve been startled initially by the lack of response nationally to what appeared to me to be a very profound issue in B.C. that was of national concern, » said Eby.

Surveillance video shows bundles of $20 bills dumped at a B.C. casino in an example of apparent money laundering. (B.C. Ministry of Attorney General)

Last June, former Mountie Peter German estimated money laundering in B.C. amounted to more than $100 million in his government-commissioned Dirty Money report into activities at provincial casinos.

Eby said that number now appears low, especially after the release of an international report that pegs money laundering in B.C. at more than $1 billion annually, although a time period wasn’t mentioned in the report.

A second report by the RCMP estimates $1 billion worth of property transactions in Vancouver were tied to the proceeds of crime, the attorney general said.

The government had estimated that it was a $200 million-a-year operation, but the federal Ministry of Finance has provided estimates that pegs the problem at $1 billion annually, Eby said.

The provincial government only learned about the reports through media leaks or their public release and it wasn’t consulted about the reports, Eby said.

« The question I ask myself is, « Why am I reading about this in an international report instead of receiving the information government to government? »’ he said. « It’s those information gaps that organized crime thrives in and we need to do a better job between our governments. »

G7 report highlights billion-dollar problem

A report issued last July by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force, a body of G7 member countries fighting money laundering, terrorist financing and threats to the international financial system, highlighted B.C. money laundering activities.

Eby said the report includes details about a clandestine banking operation laundering money in B.C. that was not fully known by the provincial government.

Surveillance footage of alleged money laundering. (Supplied)

« It is estimated that they laundered more than $1 billion (Canadian) per year through an underground banking network, involving legal and illegal casinos, money value transfer services and asset procurement, » stated the report.

« One portion of the money laundering network’s illegal activities was the use of drug money, illegal gambling money and money derived from extortion to supply cash to Chinese gamblers in Canada. »

The report stated the gamblers would call contacts who would make cash deliveries in casino parking lots and use the money to buy casino chips, cash them in and deposit the proceeds into a Canadian bank.

« Some of these funds were used for real estate purchases, » the report stated. « Surveillance identified links to 40 different organizations, including organized groups in Asia that dealt with cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. »

B.C. ‘still’ hasn’t seen report: Eby

Eby said the G7 task force report included information about money laundering in B.C. from the federal government, via the RCMP, that the province didn’t have.

He said the B.C. government also confirmed the RCMP compiled an intelligence report about proceeds of crime connections to luxury real estate property sales in Vancouver, but his ministry doesn’t have the report.

« We still don’t have a copy of it, » Eby said.

Blair could not be reached for comment but, in a statement, said the federal government takes the threat posed by money laundering and organized crime seriously and is collaborating with the B.C. government and German.

Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

« We are taking action to combat this by enhancing the RCMP’s investigative and intelligence capabilities both in Canada and abroad, and our Financial Intelligence Unit further helps protect Canadians and our financial system, » said the statement.

German’s report to the provincial government last June concluded B.C.’s gaming industry was not prepared for the onslaught of illegal cash at the casinos and estimated more than $100 million was funnelled through the casinos.

He was appointed last fall to conduct a second review identifying the scale and scope of illegal activity in the real estate market and whether money laundering is linked to horse racing and the sale of luxury vehicles.

« We’re having some difficulty getting the information we need for Dr. German to make a true assessment of the extent of the problem facing B.C., » said Eby.

Peter German (left) a former deputy commissioner of the RCMP at the launch of his Dirty Money report in June 2018. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

‘A lot of anecdotal evidence’

Maureen Maloney, a former B.C. deputy attorney general, was also appointed last fall to lead an expert panel on money laundering in real estate and report to the government in March.

« We do realize there is a lot of anecdotal evidence on the extent of money laundering in real estate, but we really don’t have a good handle on that, » said Maloney. « We’re looking at whether or not we can produce some good evidence of that. We’re looking at, do we have that data available in B.C., or indeed Canada. »

Confidential provincial government documents dated April 2017 and released through Freedom of Information requests show the government was tracking suspicious currency transactions at B.C. casinos, especially in $20 bills, for years. The high-point of these transactions was more than $176 million in 2014-2015.

In 2008, CBC journalists took $24,000 in cash to B.C. casinos to see just how easy money laundering would be. Turns out it wasn’t hard at all:

Investigation lauded in last week’s Peter German report on B.C. casinos 4:55

Documents dated August 2016 show the government’s Gaming Policy Enforcement Branch observed so-called « high roller » patrons at a Metro Vancouver casino for a year starting in January 2015 and concluded people connected to real estate were the top buy-in gamblers at $53.1 million.

A spokesman for B.C.’s gaming industry said reports from the gaming operators about cash transactions flagged concerns of money laundering.

Peter Goudron, B.C. Gaming Industry Association executive director, said casinos implemented measures to combat potential money laundering, including placing cash restrictions on players in 2015.

« This had the effect of reducing the value of suspicious transactions by more than 60 per cent over the next two years, » he said. « More recently, operators implemented Dr. Peter German’s interim recommendation requiring additional scrutiny of large cash buy-ins in January 2018 and this has further driven down the number of suspicious transactions. »

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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