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Christy Clark headlines list of politicians stepping into witness box at money laundering inquiry

Former premier held office during a time when suspicious transactions surged at B.C. casinos.
Former BC Liberal MLA Rich Coleman, left, sits next to Premier Christy Clark and MLA Michael De Jong, in 2016. All three will testify this month at the B.C. Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering | B.C. government
Former BC Liberal premier Christy Clark will testify at the Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in B.C. Tuesday, marking the first of a handful of appearances by present and past politicians over the next two weeks.

Clark was premier from 2011 to 2017, a time, the public inquiry has heard, that saw a significant rise in large and suspicious casino transactions allegedly linked to transnational organized crime. Clark also oversaw an era of skyrocketing housing prices unique to Metro Vancouver – another matter the provincial inquiry is looking into.

Clark’s name has rarely been raised over months of testimony specific to casino regulations. However, she would have been in charge of several ministers tasked to oversee those regulations, including Shirley Bond, Michael de Jong and Rich Coleman, who are scheduled to testify on April 22, April 23 and April 28, respectively.

Those ministers were in charge of the gambling file and anti-money laundering (AML) regulations between 2007 and 2011, although Coleman held it for the longest period of time. Former minister of public safety and solicitor general Kash Heed will also testify April 30 and can be expected to explain how he liaised with Coleman and RCMP in 2009.

The inquiry is also set to hear from key former deputy ministers and associate deputy ministers, such as Kevin Begg, Lori Wanamaker, Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland and Richard Fyfe.

So far, on the matter of casinos, the inquiry has heard of apparent regulatory failings at the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch (the casinos regulator) and the BC Lottery Corp. (BCLC, the casinos manager). Whether this was done deliberately, or regulations were wilfully ignored, is the big question for Commissioner Austin Cullen, although no testimony from officials, to date, has indicated so. Some former casino investigators have cited gambling revenue as a matter that prevented proper implementation of the AML regime.

Former BCLC CEO Michael Graydon, for instance, said that Clark’s government set a new “tone” — one driven by revenue.

While Clark is expected to draw significant attention, the inquiry has heard evidence of problems in casinos before Clark was designated premier in 2011.

The inquiry has not scheduled former premier Gordon Campbell, who had a decade-long run as head of a B.C. government that expanded casinos and implemented the regulations that appeared to fail in a more widespread manner during the Clark era.

BCLC officials have always maintained they were doing the best they could, and although they had a mandate to increase gambling profits for government coffers, they complied with AML requirements in a purposeful manner despite some errors or seemingly slow responses.

In 2016, Clark cited “shady” real estate practices, such as shadow flipping, as justification to end self-regulation of the industry. The inquiry has brought in experts in real estate to discuss money-laundering risks that exist in B.C., such as bare trusts, legal services outside of the financial reporting system, house flipping and beneficial and/or hidden ownership structures.

Clark also imposed a 15% tax on foreign purchasers of residential property. The inquiry has heard testimony from experts citing concerns about money flowing in from foreign nations known for corruption, most specifically the People’s Republic of China – a country Clark’s governments significantly courted.

Also testifying will be Attorney General David Eby on April 26. Eby called the inquiry after his BC NDP formed the government in 2017 following an election campaign that targeted the BC Liberals as being soft on financial crime and property speculation.

The inquiry is mandated to make recommendations for provincial regulators.

Eby has had four years, so far, to fix various regulatory regimes, but the inquiry has prodded officials about the progress and quality of policy implementation.

For example, Eby hasn’t placed a cap on cash buy-ins at casinos and there are no limits on casino convenience cheques.

The provincial government is creating a beneficial ownership registry for properties but the inquiry has heard from experts that a robust identification system is required to dissuade dishonest declarations – and this is yet to be determined. Likewise, the province is also working on a corporate registry and looking at forming an independent casino regulator.

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