Financial crime still a ‘free-for-all’ in B.C. and Canada, expert says

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B.C. has taken important steps recently in the fight against money laundering, an international conference in Vancouver heard Wednesday, but successful prosecution of financial crime remains problematically rare.

A group of international experts and professionals gathered in downtown Vancouver on Wednesday for a day-long conference focused on financial crime, money laundering, corruption, misinformation and journalism.

In the years since a series of government-commissioned reports highlighted B.C.’s problem with money laundering and the province ordered a commission of inquiry into the subject in 2019, B.C. has implemented important reforms to help improve transparency, Sacha Caldera, campaign director with the Toronto-based anti-corruption non-profit group Publish What You Pay, told the conference on Wednesday.

These changes include B.C.’s land owner transparency registry, which makes it easier for police, regulators, journalists and any member of the public to uncover the true ownership of real estate. The registry became searchable in 2021, and earlier this year, the government dropped the search fees, another move that was applauded by transparency advocates including Caldera.

Another public registry, which B.C. announced last year and expects to launch in 2025, is intended to increase transparency around the ownership of B.C. companies.

Both of these registries should help make life more difficult for money launderers and their “professional enablers” like accountants and lawyers, Caldera said.

It’s also encouraging that B.C. recently became the first province in Canada to use a new power known as unexplained wealth orders, trying to force people, through the courts, to prove property or funds weren’t obtained by crime.

However, Caldera told the audience: “We have a lack of enforcement in Canada” when it comes to financial crime.

“Even the CRA has very lax enforcement of tax evasion and tax avoidance at the corporate level, and also we have a horrible prosecutorial record in Canada for money laundering.”

In an interview, Caldera said that while B.C.’s reforms are important, financial crime still appears to be as much “a free-for-all” on the West Coast as elsewhere in the country.

Wednesday’s event was co-hosted by TRACE, a U.S.-headquartered global non-profit focused on fighting corruption and promoting good governance, and the Vancouver Anti-Corruption Institute, a project launched in 2021 at the University of B.C.’s law school.

The Anti-Corruption Institute is chaired by Peter German, a former RCMP deputy commissioner who was in the headlines a few years ago when he was hired by the B.C. NDP to write two reports on money-laundering in B.C., which preceded the commission of inquiry. German also told the conference Wednesday about how the spread of misinformation helps facilitate financial crime.

The conference drew attendees from across Canada and internationally, including representatives from global accounting and finance firms, law enforcement and regulatory agencies and consular officials, and journalists visiting from Europe, Asia and the U.S.

Adam Ross, a corporate investigator and partner with Templeton Research who was in attendance Wednesday, said B.C. has “taken some important steps” to “create more transparent ownership and track movement of funds better than we have in the past.”

“But it’s still early days, we don’t know how broadly people are complying with the legislation,” Ross said. And, he added, “there is not enough successful prosecution of financial crime.”

This article was originally sourced from www.VancouverSun.com