Chinese companies want courts to seize B.C. properties

Lawyers in Vancouver say they are seeing a substantial increase in B.C. court cases filed by Chinese companies seeking to seize real estate assets from Chinese immigrants in B.C.

The Chinese plaintiffs are asking B.C. judges to enforce monetary judgments awarded in Chinese courts. These Chinese rulings typically involve people found in China to have defrauded Chinese banks or business partners and then fled to Canada with the money and invested in real estate here.

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The rapid rise in the numbers of Chinese cases in Canada and the U.S. — two preferred destinations, according to the Chinese government, for financial fugitives — has also been recognized by Dan Harris, a Seattle lawyer who advises international law firms on strategies for recovering assets from Chinese defendants.

Such cases have been trickling into B.C. courts for several years, including a 2015 B.C. Supreme Court award of $670 million to the Bank of China against money allegedly laundered through buying multiple homes and the setting up of bank accounts in Richmond.

Vancouver lawyer Christine Duhaime said a case in June appears to have opened the flood gates.

Duhaime said that after her client, China Citic Bank, won a so-called Mareva injunction from B.C. Supreme Court, prohibiting the sale of four Vancouver-area homes worth $7.2 million, calls from China poured in. The homes belong to a couple who were alleged to have “fled China” with an unpaid $10-million loan.

Duhaime said she understands this is the first case of a Mareva injunction, also called a freezing order, being won by a Chinese bank in North American courts. Such injunctions prevent assets from being sold before a court can rule on whether they should be used to repay a court award.

Based on the case, Duhaime said she has obtained information from China alleging that “billions of dollars” of bank fraud proceeds are invested in B.C. real estate. She said she could not share the documents because of client privilege.

“The [Citic] Mareva case absolutely increased the interest in China, and caused a number of banks in China to reach out to us and say, ‘We have all these cases. Can we do something in B.C., too?’ ” Duhaime said. “There is lots of cases coming down the pipe, and there is lots of appetite in China from the government, down to the banks, to come to B.C. to enforce judgments.”

In the Citic case, the defendant, Shibiao Yan, a citizen of China, is seeking to overturn the Mareva injunction. Yan argues Mareva is a “harsh and exceptional remedy that should only be available in the clearest of cases,” according to B.C. legal filings.

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