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Les Leyne: Premier's secret bid to get money laundering charges laid collapses

Prosecution Service said although there was a possible path to prosecution, there was no substantial likelihood of conviction

Premier David Eby has lost a secret attempt to reverse the B.C. Prosecution Service’s decision not to lay charges in an epic money-laundering case.

After a five-year investigation into suspected illegal gaming, loan sharking and money laundering on a large scale, police agencies involved submitted a report to Crown counsel. It recommended criminal charges against B.C. resident Paul King Jin, who featured prominently in the Cullen inquiry into money-laundering.

It was revealed Wednesday that prosecutors concluded in 2021 that no charges would be approved. The service said although there was a possible path to prosecution, there was no substantial likelihood of conviction.

Also, that the public interest did not require laying of charges because of the anticipated length and expense compared to the overall societal benefit.

Eby, then attorney general, wrote to the head of the prosecution service, Peter Juk, in November 2021, saying that decision could damage public confidence in the justice system.

So Eby ordered an independent charge assessment of what was called the “E-Nationalize” investigation.

Juk appointed veteran Victoria lawyer Chris Considine in March 2022 to take the second look, and it was released Wednesday. The appointment was not made public at the time “in the interests of the administration of justice.”

Considine said the mass of evidence showed a business model where wealthy people would move funds to nominee accounts in China. They were then converted to Canadian funds in B.C. and moved by way of bank drafts or casino chips.

Up to $7 million was identified over just one three-month period.

Considine said there was “robust” evidence and the investigation produced more than 40,000 documents and 90 seized smartphones with more than two million communications, most in Mandarin.

He said translating and disclosing it all to defence lawyers could have been a problem, but wasn’t sufficient reason to drop charges.

“I believe these charges could be managed,” he wrote in a statement.

But the critical question was whether the Crown could demonstrate the money was proceeds of crime. An unlicensed money service business was involved in the network and the case rested partly on using that to establish criminality.

Considine concurred with Crown counsels’ view that there is no Canadian precedent where the operation of an unlicensed money service business could serve as a predicate offence for money laundering charges.

He said the overall evidence “paints a highly suspicious” portrait on some individuals’ operations. But there is a “paucity” of evidence about two key individuals who handled transfers.

Considine said then-attorney general Eby believed there was a strong public interest in conducting a prosecution.

“I have asked myself whether I could lay the charges with a reasonable expectation of a conviction … I have concluded that I cannot.”

The case could have derailed numerous ways.

A similar huge “E-pirate” investigation foundered in 2018 when charges were dropped.

Considine said evidence could be successfully challenged and the complexities and time requirements could run into the time limits set for prosecutions by the Supreme Court of Canada.

He said the strong public interest in prosecuting money laundering is predicated on “the very thing the Crown would be unable to establish … that the money in question was ‘dirty money.’ ”

Considine considered approving lesser charges, but dismissed that option as well. It could have amounted to a lengthy, complex mega-trial that produced only a non-custodial sentence.

He recommended federal legislative changes to make it easier to pursue such cases.

Attorney General Niki Sharma said the collapse of the case is frustrating, but there are still civil forfeiture cases and “we’re also constantly as a government improving our ability to go after money laundering.”

She said teams are working on investigating and charging in such cases.

But this one amounted to a monumental waste of time and effort that produced nothing, for the second time in a row.

The suspects were always several steps ahead of the authorities, who don’t have the resources to push financial mega-cases over the finish line.

When Eby wrote to the prosecution branch ordering a review, he said: “If there is a viable path to prosecuting Mr. Jin for money laundering or related offences and no prosecution is undertaken, public confidence in the justice system could be damaged.”

The fact there is no viable path to laying charges does even more damage.

The E-Nationalize story is a disgrace for a law enforcement-judicial system that already has more than enough problems.

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