The British Colombia inquiry into casino money laundering is not over yet. More information is coming to light. Now it is about Canada’s Big Six banks. Key testimony before the commission in charge is revealing.
This means beyond casino operators, realtors, lawyers, accountants, ATM operators, among others, more entities are being dragged through the mud.
Michael Bowman, the global chief of anti-money laundering for the Toronto-Dominion Bank Group “took the stand”.
It goes back to March of 2018, when the Mounties said that an investigation had found 3,000 anonymously purchased bank drafts negotiated through local casinos worth $150 million. Now we know that $147 million, or 98 percent comes from the Big Six.
According to Nicholas Isaacs, the commission’s lawyer,
“The top two financial institutions … would be TD and the next bank, that together represent 66 per cent of the dollar value and about 63 per cent of the count volume, roughly $100 million between the top two banks of which TD bank is the first.”
Money laundering had been suspected by the RCMP all along. Now specific transactions are open to scrutiny. Why did only some banks respond to potential problems?
When Transparency International lawyer, Toby Rauch-Davis, tried to hold Bowman to account, the objections began. He asked if the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre (Fintrac) had given TD any advice after the problem was exposed or if it had it paid any fines.
Are the banks beyond the jurisdiction of the commission? Some say it is a complex legal question. Per Commissioner Cullen,
“The jurisdiction, the intersection of what are legitimate provincial interests in
pursuing questions of barriers to effective investigations of money-laundering
are beyond my capacity to make recommendations about.
It maintained that it an issue that needs to be decided with more comprehensive legal argument at the end of the day.
Meanwhile, documents reveal that in 2018, the police had met with the banks as part of what was called Project Athena. Anna Gabriele, an anti-money laundering manager in the financial intelligence unit for TD, attended meetings. Representatives from the other Big Six banks were also there.
She said the Mounties wanted the banks to review a list of individuals to identify and investigate any clients, and then report their suspicions to Fintrac to trigger an investigation.
Various recommendations were made at the time. Somehow the problem was no longer a priority. In fact, Bowman didn’t even learn of the issue until December of 2019. He questioned, “whether the (Project Athena) flow and exchange of information proposed by the RCMP was acceptable and appropriate within the legal constraints.
Then on September 14th, TD finally implemented a proposed change to its bank drafts by manually adding the purchaser’s name in B.C. It disclosed plans to have a national automated system in place next year.
It seems that the Big Six were major suppliers of the unsourced money flowing through B.C. casinos. Imagine the negative impact on the public interest and the banking industry. Per Brock Martland, senior commission counsel,
“It would give rise to a realistic likelihood that bad actors would
learn what works and what doesn’t, what the banks do and don’t do,
and what gaps exist that they can take advantage of.”
The world’s banks are at the center of the BC money-laundering problem no doubt due to the digital and regulatory integration of the global economic system. For some time, they have been turning a blind eye.