$43 million in property value is linked to accused who were targets of RCMP E-Pirate money-laundering investigation and other related police probes.
Less than two weeks after the RCMP launched a series of raids in 2015 during an investigation into B.C.’s largest money laundering case, the spouse of a major police target sold a house on Fairbrook Crescent in Richmond.
The four-bedroom, five-bathroom home with marble floors and a home theatre was purchased in 2013 for $1.8 million. Paul King Jin’s spouse, Xiaoqi Wei, sold it for $1.93 million on Oct. 26, 2015, 11 days after the raids on Oct. 15, which were part of the RCMP’s E-Pirate probe.
During the raids at several locations, police seized more than $8 million in cash, largely bundles of $20 bills wrapped in elastic bands, ledgers allegedly containing information on money-laundering transactions, money counters, computers, cellphones and gambling equipment.
More than $4 million of the cash was seized from a gun safe in the master bedroom of a luxury Richmond condo where Wei lived with Jin, according to court documents.
The Fairbrook Crescent house is among 20 Lower Mainland properties valued at more than $43 million that were linked to those accused of using proceeds of crime to buy property and other assets. They were targets of E-Pirate and related police probes into allegations of drug trafficking, illegal gambling and money laundering, according to a Postmedia News analysis of hundreds of pages of court records and property documents.
The analysis shows the main players — those accused of running illegal gambling operations and money laundering — often put properties and other assets in the names of nominees, such as relatives, and also were quick to protect assets when they come to the attention of law enforcement officials.
For example, less than three weeks after Maxim Poon Wong was arrested with more than $200,000 in cash by Vancouver police investigating a cosmetics business that police alleged was a branch for an underground bank — he added Karen Wong to the title of a $2.8-million home on West 62nd Avenue in Vancouver.
The ownership change — for $1 and “natural love and affection” — took place on Oct. 14, 2015, according to B.C. Land Title Office records, 19 days after Wong was arrested on Sept. 25.
Assets are often put in family members’ names — even jointly — to make them harder to seize as proceeds-of-crime, experts say.
These findings come as increased scrutiny is being put on money laundering in B.C. and there are questions on what effect money laundering could be having on the Lower Mainland’s housing market that several years ago experienced rapid rises in prices.
“This is not surprising,” a former RCMP anticorruption investigator, Patrice Poitevin, said of Postmedia’s findings.
“Even from an organized crime perspective — traditional organized crime, drug traffickers — they most often put their properties in somebody else’s name,” said Poitevin, who co-founded the Canadian Centre of Excellence for Anti-Corruption.
Poitevin, like other financial crime experts, said it’s difficult to figure out how much money is being laundered — let alone in real estate. But money laundering is a big problem globally and can have a huge effect on local economies, he said.
Tom Davidoff, a professor at the University of B.C.’s Sauder School of Business, said it will be difficult to assess the effect of proceeds-of-crime on the real estate market. “But it’s believable to me that if there’s an impact it would be at the higher end (of the market),” he said.
The issue has the attention of the B.C. government, which this month received two independent reports on money laundering and the real estate sector: a panel report to Finance Minister Carole James and a report from a former RCMP deputy commissioner. Peter German. to Attorney General David Eby. The reports’ findings will be made public once the government reviews them.
Some of the $43 million in properties that Postmedia analyzed remain in the hands of owners accused of money laundering. Others have been sold and the money put in trust pending the outcome of seizure lawsuits launched by B.C.’s Civil Forfeiture Office. Others remain in the hands of family members named in civil forfeiture cases but not subject to seizure.
At the centre of the civil forfeiture cases is an underground bank called Silver International in Richmond that allegedly laundered as much as $220 million a year, and possibly as much as $1 billion. None the allegations have been proven in court.
Jin, a primary target of the E-Pirate investigation, is alleged to have run illegal gambling houses in Richmond and used Silver International to launder money. He didn’t put property in his own name. Documents filed in court allege he used the Fairbrook Crescent house, in his spouse’s name, to launder money by purchasing it or paying deposits.
Jin’s niece, Yuanyuan Jia, is the owner of a $764,000 condo on Jones Road in Richmond. Forfeiture documents filed in court allege Jin is the true owner of the property. B.C. Assessment records show the niece is also the owner of a six-bedroom, $3.24 million home on Chelsea Court in West Vancouver. Jia is also listed as the owner of a $634,000 condo in Surrey, according to property records.
Jin’s father, Gong Ping Jia, owned a $563,000 condo on Cambie Road in Richmond, which was sold in 2014, according to B.C. Assessment and land-title records.
Jin’s father and niece were also directors of 0820490 B.C. Ltd., according to B.C. corporate registry records, which operated the now-closed Water Cube massage parlour that Jin managed.
Postmedia made attempts to contact Jin and others in his family through one of his lawyers but was unsuccessful.
The documents supporting the forfeiture case allege Jin’s father’s bank accounts, along with those of the other parents of Jin and Wei, were used to transmit large amounts of money from China to Canada as part of a money-laundering enterprise.
The documents allege a pair of illegal gambling houses were established by Jin at houses in the names of others. One was allegedly set up at a mansion on 11 hectares on No. 4 Road in Richmond, valued at $9 million, owned by Yuanyuan Yin, listed as a student in land title documents. Another was allegedly set up in a luxury condo on Brighouse Way in Richmond, owned at the time by Wei’s mother, according to court documents, and valued at nearly $2.9 million.
Jin also laundered money through a $4.9-million condo on Pearson Way in Richmond, the documents allege.
Another house used for gambling and money laundering, a $4.9-million eight bedroom, 11 bathroom luxury home on Sidaway Road in Richmond, was listed as owned by an Ontario woman, Wen Feng, the court documents allege. A B.C. civil forfeiture claim alleges that Feng is a nominee and owner of convenience, and the true owner is Lap San Peter Pang, which the claim alleges is Feng’s brother.
Both have denied any wrongdoing, and Feng has said she isn’t related to Pang. Pang was a director of the Water Cube massage parlour, operated by Jin, according to corporate registry records.
The Sidaway Road property has since been sold and the proceeds held in trust pending the outcome of the civil forfeiture case.
In B.C., the government just proposed a new law to create the first beneficial ownership registry in Canada. It’s meant to prevent the hidden ownership of land, by requiring corporations, trusts and numbered companies to reveal who are the true owners.
Transparency International Canada’s executive director, James Cohen, likes the measure but said he is concerned the new registry does not take into consideration the problem of nominees, people listed as owners on paper but who are not the true owners.
“It’s a really advanced piece of legislation — and we are glad to see it, but the B.C. government needs to close that gap for the exact reason (the Postmedia analysis) is citing,” said Cohen.
Poitevin and his anticorruption centre co-founder, Marc Tasse, a University of Ottawa instructor, said the federal government must also go further, creating a searchable public registry that reveals beneficial owners as has been done in the U.K.
Poitevin and Tasse say that other provinces should take note of what B.C. is doing and follow suit.
Said Poitevin: “You will never be able to eradicate people hiding their money. But you’ve got to make it more difficult.”
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