Inquiry hears money laundering concerns at B.C. casinos rose as 2010 Olympics neared

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VANCOUVER — Larger amounts of suspicious cash with suspected links to money laundering and organized crime began showing up at British Columbia's casinos while the province prepared to host the 2010 Winter Olympics, a former gaming regulator told the inquiry into money laundering. 

Larry Vander Graaf said Thursday there was an increase in suspected illegal money at casinos at the same time the RCMP was planning Canada's largest-ever security effort to police the Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler.

Vander Graaf, a former executive director of the B.C. Gaming Policy Enforcement Branch, said while serious dirty money concerns were mounting at casinos, police were also working on Olympic security.

"You have to remember the time frame, too," Vander Graaf testified.

"In 2007, 2008, 2009 there was the biggest security endeavour in Canadian history going on in Vancouver, the 2010 Olympics. The preparations for the 2010 Olympics was significant and the RCMP was tasked with that."

He said he wasn't making excuses for the police, but staffing issues at the RCMP's now disbanded Integrated Illegal Gaming Enforcement Team were "evident."

Vander Graaf, who said he was fired in 2014 by the B.C. government, said the suspicious cash started appearing at casinos in 2007 and three years later it reached the point where loan sharks connected to organized criminals were waiting in parking lots with bags packed with $20 bills.

"It was like a drive-in," he said. "There's no question, where there are loan sharks there was money laundering and when the money laundering picked up, the loan sharks activity picked up."

The B.C. government launched a public inquiry following several reports that concluded hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal cash was impacting B.C.'s real estate, luxury vehicle and gaming sectors.

Vander Graaf said his agency wanted limits put on the amounts of cash in $20 bills being used at the casinos to buy chips but the Crown-owned B.C. Lottery Corp. did not impose a limit.

"The integrity of gaming was being compromised and we feel we had to take action," he said. 

"I still believe to this day ... when we have the integrity of gaming being impacted by large cash infusions that are in $20,000 bundles with elastic bands around it, that there should have been action in relation to stopping that at the casinos."

Vander Graaf said the lottery corporation did not make a cash amount order because it could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the money was from proceeds of crime or money laundering.

Last week, Fred Pinnock, a former RCMP officer in charge of the now disbanded illegal gaming enforcement team, testified a member of the B.C. legislature told him in 2009 the province's gaming minister was focused on revenues being generated at casinos, not organized crime.

Vander Graaf's testimony is to continue Friday. 

 — By Dirk Meissner in Victoria. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 12, 2020.

The Canadian Press