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Money laundering through B.C. casinos tied to opioid crisis: report

VANCOUVER — Money-laundering operations through casinos are tied to British Columbia’s opioid crisis and the real-estate market, the attorney general said Wednesday as he released an independent report detailing how organized crime groups used the gaming industry to fuel the overdose crisis and skyrocketing housing prices.

David Eby said the problem surfaced in 2011 but the former Liberal government failed to address “serious crime with serious consequences.”

“It has to stop,” he told a news conference. “For years, government turned a blind eye to the escalating money laundering in B.C. casinos.”

Eby tasked former RCMP deputy commissioner Peter German to conduct a review and write a report, and German said at least $100 million in dirty money was funnelled through casinos as part of a scheme dubbed the “Vancouver model.”

Organized crime groups, primarily from Asia, laundered money from illegal drugs by using B.C. casinos and then invested the money in Vancouver-area real estate, German said.

“Why did this occur, because it could?” he said.

German said the amount of suspicious money entering casinos since a high point in 2015 has been greatly reduced due to police and gaming industry actions, but the prevention measures must continue to ensure the problem does not resurface.

“We need a strong provincial regulator, which is not currently the situation,” he said.

German made 48 recommendations including establishing an independent gaming regulator with an enforcement body.

Eby said the government accepts all the recommendations.

“We will be moving as quickly as possible to slam the door shut on dirty money,” he said.

Eby launched an investigation after the government’s gaming enforcement branch showed him surveillance video of gamblers walking into casinos with suitcases and a hockey bag full of millions of dollars in $20 bills.

The BC Lottery Corp., which operates casinos, said the report is an important road map for multiple organizations involved in fighting money laundering in the province.

“We are poised to implement the direction set out by Attorney General David Eby to keep dirty money out of casinos alongside our industry, government and law enforcement partners. We can all do better for the benefit of British Columbians,” corporation president Jim Lightbody said in a news release.

The Canadian Press

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