In Canada, nearly all accused money launderers get their charges dropped
27 Dec 2019

White-collar criminals have little to fear from the Canadian judicial system, in which nearly all money laundering charges get thrown out before trial, according to statistics obtained by the Star.

Eighty-six per cent of charges for laundering the proceeds of crime laid between 2012 and 2017 were withdrawn or stayed, according to data from Statistics Canada’s Integrated Criminal Court Survey.

A mere nine per cent of money laundering charges during that period resulted in a guilty plea or a conviction.

“A conviction rate like that is pretty abysmal,” said Chris Mathers, a former RCMP officer who specialized in undercover money laundering investigations.

For context, 64 per cent of all criminal cases in Canada during the same period resulted in a guilty finding, according to Statistics Canada.

The statistics — which were prepared for the Star by data analysts at Statistics Canada — reflect Mathers’ experience in court, where money laundering charges were often dropped in exchange for a guilty plea on other, mostly drug-related charges, he said.

“There are men and women in law enforcement who are very dedicated in trying to catch these guys and put them in jail. But the Crown (attorneys) just end up using (the money laundering charge) as a bargaining chip and withdrawing it,” he said.

Christine Duhaime, a Vancouver lawyer who specializes in anti-money-laundering law, said these numbers paint a very attractive picture for organized criminals looking for a place to spend their ill-gotten profits.

“I think that all leads to this concept that in British Columbia, there’s no one watching the money laundering,” she said. “Clearly, criminals look for that.”

In response to questions about the high rate of stayed and withdrawn charges, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC), which prosecutes the majority of money laundering cases, sent the Star an emailed statement.

“In Canada, the vast majority of cases never go to trial; rather they are resolved by way of a guilty plea, in most instances to a number of the charges laid, but not the totality,” the statement read. “One has to consider the global outcome of the file, not only that of one single charge, to get an accurate picture of the outcome of the resolution discussions.”

An avalanche of alarming headlines this year have drawn attention to Canada’s poor record for combating financial crime.

In April, it was revealed that there isn’t a single RCMP officer in B.C. devoted to money laundering investigations. In May, a major report commissioned by the B.C. government described how criminals were laundering more than $5 billion per year through Vancouver real estate. Additional studies estimated that authorities were missing 99.9 per cent of money laundering in the country and that more than $20 billion in anonymous money has been used to buy real estate in Toronto in the last decade.

Last November, in an illustration of Canada’s poor prosecution record, the biggest money laundering case in B.C. history fell apart and the Crown stayed all charges.

According to Statistics Canada, there were 2,026 money laundering charges laid across Canada during the five years from 2012-13 to 2016-17. Of those, 1,747 — or 86 per cent — were either withdrawn or stayed, while only 190 — or nine percent — led to a conviction or guilty plea.

“Keep in mind that only in cases where there is a high probability of a conviction is a charge even laid,” said Mathers. “That’s a lot of good cases getting thrown out.”

A second data set, which the Star obtained from the PPSC through an access to information request, shows only the charges that were pursued by federal prosecutors, which generally involve tax and drug offences. The track record for securing convictions there isn’t much better.

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Read more at The Toronto Star

Photo: Elvis Pépin [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via Flickr

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