Money laundering in Ontario: Suspicious cash transactions spike after B.C. casino crackdown
30 Jan 2020

As British Columbia’s government rolled out new laws aimed at cracking down on massive, questionable transactions flowing through casinos on Canada’s West Coast, the number of suspicious cash investigations in Ontario’s casinos more than doubled in 2018, a Global News investigation has found.

Experts fear the international drug cartels that targeted B.C. casinos to wash dirty money have now shifted their focus to Ontario.

“Money laundering is like a product of their crime, just like dead kids and corrupt politicians. So that dirty money will find the cracks and flow to more vulnerable systems in Canada,” said Calvin Chrustie, a former senior RCMP officer who targeted transnational organized crime groups in Vancouver and internationally.

The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) logged 945 suspicious transaction investigations at casinos in 2017. That more than doubled to 2,266 transactions in 2018 — a roughly 140 per cent increase, according to data obtained exclusively by Global News.

The OPP data shows suspicious transaction investigations, which include investigations into potential money laundering, continued to trend higher in 2019, with 1,327 investigations in the first seven months of the year.

Each suspicious transaction investigation by the OPP can refer to multiple transactions in casinos across the province.

B.C. tightened restrictions on cash flowing into casinos in January 2018.

Two months later, B.C. Attorney General David Eby told a House of Commons committee that the value of suspicious transactions at B.C. casinos plummeted from a high of $20 million a month in July 2015 to just $200,000 a month in February 2018.

“We have reduced it by a factor of 100,” Eby said. “I believe that money has moved elsewhere.”

Experts say that as criminal networks sought out different regions in which to park their dirty cash, their focus may have turned to Ontario.

“The criminal networks involved haven’t been touched, and they are still selling their drugs and making their money,” Chrustie said.

In an interview with Global News, Chief Supt. Bill Price of the OPP’s dedicated casino investigations unit acknowledged that due to an intense spotlight and new restrictions in B.C. casinos, money launderers likely have shifted focus to Ontario casinos.

But Price said the 140 per cent increase in suspicious transaction investigations is also due, in part, to more gambling in the Greater Toronto Area and the OPP’s increased scrutiny of that gambling.

“If you turn a slot facility into a full-blown casino with table games, there’s larger transactions that automatically occur that should generate suspicious transaction reports,” Price said. “Woodbine (casino) itself went from a slot facility to a full-blown casino. That changes the dynamics.

“Are we concerned about people from other jurisdictions coming here to infiltrate our casinos? Absolutely. But we have a very good model in place to prevent that and disrupt that activity as much as possible.”

How widespread is the issue?

The new data shows there is a “preponderance of money laundering” flowing through the province’s casinos that requires immediate action from Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government, said Garry Clement, former director of the RCMP proceeds of crime unit.

“[Ontario officials] can say that they don’t have a money-laundering problem. If they do, they have their heads in the sand,” Clement said.

By Sam Cooper, Andrew Russell and Brian Hill, Global News, 29 January 2020

Read more at Global News

Photo (edited): Philcomanforterie [CC BY-SA 4.0]

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