British Columbia is not the only Canadian province under siege for casino money laundering. Now Québec is launching its own independent audit to investigate the problem, among other criminal activities, at publicly owned casinos.
Guilty or not?
Québec Finance Minister Eric Girard is behind the move that will expose the four casinos owned by Loto-Québec, a state corporation. An external auditor will head a team seeking to find evidence of any wrongdoing. It could be any number of criminal violations like loan sharking.
Casino loyalty programs that favor certain crime bosses are under suspicion. It has been reported, for example, that Casino de Montréal, “rolled out the red carpet” for such organized crime bosses, awarding them VIP comps like free meals and accommodations.
Loto-Québec on the defensive
Loto-Québec is fighting back regarding the recent allegations and subsequent inquiry. They have made statements in Le Journal de Québec and Le Journal de Montréal, outlining the reasons why the operator had received an administrative penalty from the Financial Transactions and Report Analysis Center of Canada (FINTRAC) in 2012.
One of the failings observed by the audit concerns a particular questionable transaction at the Casino de Montréal. A FINRAC review back in 2016, however, determined that the operator had taken the necessary steps to address the allegation.
In view of the legal challenge by Loto- Québec, FINTRAC revised the financial penalty in March 2020 to CA$147,015 (US$113,625).
Loto-Québec paid the stated penalty to maintain a collaborative relationship with FINTRAC. Details of the fine had remained confidential until early November. Now the corporation is actively working to combat money laundering. In fact, it has put procedures in place to ensure full regulatory compliance.
Reports in the local media allege links between Québec casinos and organized crime, adding fuel to the fire. News channel TVA reported that Montréal mob boss Stefano Sollecito was among the top ten gamblers at the Casino de Montréal.
He might have spent as much as CA$2.5m (US$1.9m) in 2014 and 2015.
The new inquiry is part of the on-going money laundering scandal involving Canadian casinos. Lets hope that more are not uncovered.