27 Oct 2020
B.C. real estate developer Yongtao Chen stepped onto the podium in a Vancouver hotel ballroom and enthusiastically waved a red flag to a loud round of applause.
He had just accepted a new role as chairman of the Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations (CACA) and was displaying their banner at an August 2018 political gala in Vancouver.
The alliance is a pro-Beijing umbrella group that says it represents about 100 Chinese community associations across Canada and works with Chinese state officials to build mutually beneficial ties between the two nations.
But Canadian intelligence sources suspect the organization is part of a network directed from Beijing to undertake both legal and illegal tasks abroad.
Some 400 people were in the crowd at the gala, decked out in tailored suits and evening gowns. The guests included China’s top consular officials in B.C. and Canadian politicians from all levels of government.
Chen pledged to build ties between community groups in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal and “unite entrepreneurs” under the alliance’s banner.
One of the entrepreneurs in the room was Yongtao Chen’s business partner, a Toronto real estate tycoon named Wei Wei.
But two years later, Wei is facing multiple criminal charges in relation to allegations that he was running illegal gambling operations out of his massive marble-floored 53-room mansion in Markham, Ont.
And according to law enforcement sources, the business and political ties of some CACA leaders like Wei and Yongtao Chen are of increasing concern for Canada’s national security as RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service investigators probe networks they believe may involve the hidden hand of the Chinese state and organized crime.
The sources say they see many “mind-blowing” links between China-based transnational cartels operating in Vancouver and Toronto, and numerous decadent underground casinos believed to be laundering drug cash in sprawling mansions with imposing column-style architecture, in the suburbs of Richmond and Markham.
Alleged criminal activities in both cities have come into focus in recent weeks following a targeted shooting at a trendy restaurant in Richmond on Sept. 18. The Richmond shooting came two months after York Regional Police raided Wei’s Markham mansion, making 45 arrests and seizing 11 weapons with ammunition and $1 million in cash.
York police revealed some details of their Markham investigation in September, explaining that a guns, gangs and drug probe into illegal casinos across the city eventually led to the mansion at 5 DeCourcy Court, a $10-million property believed to be Canada’s largest-ever illegal casino.
Police also announced a list of illegal gambling and weapons charges against Wei, the operation’s alleged mastermind, and illegal gambling charges against his wife Xing Yue Chen.
Det. Sgt. Ahmad Salhia of York’s organized crime bureau told Global News that police were surprised by the scale of what they found at Wei’s mansion.
He described it as a sophisticated operation with $20,000 per hand baccarat betting limits that may have used cryptocurrency as well as cash.
A high-end restaurant with a maitre ‘d appeared to be serving families with children in a landscaped courtyard while police believe that alleged gambling and potential sex trafficking occurred in all 53 mansion rooms.
The police allegations against Wei and his wife haven’t been proven, and Wei’s first court date is in November.
Canadian corporate records reviewed by Global News show that Wei Wei and his wife control many companies and properties in Canada.
By Sam Cooper, Global News, 26 October 2020
Read more at Global News
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