Charges laid in probe of alleged B.C. money laundering

Criminal charges have been laid against Silver International Investment, a money-transfer business that RCMP allege was involved in money laundering, had ties to underground banking and used suspected drug cash to fund Chinese VIP gamblers in B.C. casinos.

During the RCMP’s Project E-Pirate probe, Mounties allege they uncovered more than $500 million from a Richmond money-laundering service they said handled up to $1.5 million a day.

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“The Public Prosecution Service of Canada can confirm that charges have been laid against Caixuan Qin, Jian Jun Zhu, and Silver International Investments Ltd. in relation to Project E-Pirate,” spokeswoman Nathalie Houle stated in an email on Wednesday. “We have no other information to provide at this time.”

RCMP and B.C. government documents obtained through freed-of-information allege that organized criminals used Silver as an illegal bank to wash drug money. According to the allegations, a network of “private lenders” in Richmond lent cash from Silver to VIP gamblers recruited from China. These high-rollers visited B.C. for gambling junkets, according to these allegations, and received hockey bags full of cash.

Officials allege these loans allowed wealthy gamblers to get money in Canada, bypassing China’s tight-capital export controls, and pay back the loan through underground banks in China. The VIPs were able to buy betting chips with street-cash $20 bills, mostly at Richmond’s River Rock Casino, and later cash out with $100 bills more suitable for investment in B.C., an audit by B.C.’s gaming enforcement policy branch alleges.

According to court records, Qin, born in 1984, and Zhu, born in 1975, face five counts, including laundering proceeds of a crime, possession of property obtained by crime, and failing to ascertain the identity of a client. Silver International faces the same five counts.

The accused are scheduled for a first appearance in Richmond provincial court on Oct. 30. Matthew Nathanson, lawyer for Silver International, did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

The Canada Revenue Agency “is currently involved in this ongoing investigation,” spokeswoman Heidi Hofstad said Wednesday.

“These cases are complex and require months or years to complete,” Hofstad said. “The time it will take will depend on … the number of individuals involved, the availability of information or evidence, cooperation or lack thereof of witnesses or the accused.”

Corporate records indicate that Caixuan Qin is the director of Silver International. Qin’s mailing address for Silver is an apartment unit in Richmond. Qin is not the owner of the apartment, according to title documents. Caixuan Qin is listed as owner of a $2.5 million home in south Vancouver.

Silver, which was incorporated in 2014, operated in a unit of an office complex at 5811 Cooney Rd. in Richmond. Little else can be found about the company in B.C. registry documents.

An October 2014 filing in B.C. small claims court alleges that the owners of Silver International failed to pay a Richmond contractor for installing a glass door with an electric lock at Silver’s office. Silver International counter-claimed for deficient work, alleging: “It was a material term of the contract that the glass must be bullet-resistant.”

In late August, at a Vancouver conference attended by law enforcement officials, RCMP Insp. Bruce Ward outlined the details of E-Pirate. The investigation started with surveillance of gambling and cash drops at River Rock Casino, documents say, which led to Silver’s cash house, about a 10-minute drive away.

Ward said RCMP surveillance identified 40 different organizations linked to Asian organized groups dealing cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. Gangsters were delivering “suitcases laden with cash” to Silver’s cash house.

At Silver, dealers could drop off $100,000 in cash in a suitcase, Ward said, and within minutes a credit for $95,000 would appear in a Chinese bank, after a five per cent fee was taken for the laundering and transfer service.

“The primary target that led us there, was a person that is involved in generating ‘whales’ … these high-end gamblers,” Ward said. “His expertise is going over and working in Macau, identifying rich Chinese businessmen that would go to Macau, and he was attracting them to Canada, to gamble. He would use Silver International as a bank account.”

Describing a typical cash drop, Ward said: “They would put $100,000 into a hockey bag, show up at the casino, and give (the VIP gambler) $100,000 … the loaning out would go to Chinese offshore gamblers coming into Canada.”

In a raid on Silver International’s office in October, 2015, civil forfeiture documents allege, Mounties seized over $2 million in mostly $20 bills, plus ledgers and daily transaction records. Ledgers suggest that in only one year, Silver laundered $220 million in cash in B.C., and sent over $300 million offshore, according to Ward.

B.C. gaming enforcement branch documents say that information revealed by the RCMP’s investigation into Silver and funding of gamblers at River Rock Casino led them to suspect funds are tied to “transnational drug trafficking … (that) could have a potentially devastating impact on the casino industry.”

A 2016 B.C. gaming enforcement branch audit alleged that River Rock Casino staff knowingly accepted millions in suspicious cash that was provided to VIP gamblers by lenders who were banned from B.C. casinos, Postmedia has reported.

On Wednesday, Chuck Keeling, an executive with River Rock’s operator Great Canadian Gaming Corp., said he was not aware of charges laid in the E-Pirate investigation, and he was not able to comment.

In his August presentation, Ward alleged Silver got so sophisticated that it could wire funds to Mexico and Peru, allowing dealers to buy narcotics without carrying cash outside Canada, and cover up the international money transfers with fake trade invoices from China.

“They facilitated drug trafficking and moved money from it around the world,” Ward said, pointing to records allegedly captured in the E-Pirate raids.

“This is a typical request, a direction from Silver International to move money from their own account to a drug dealer’s account. We saw evidence of over 600 (bank) accounts in China that were controlled or fed by Silver International. Chinese police have followed up, and they have labelled this a massive underground banking system.”

Ward said RCMP had “prepared two major crime reports to Crown counsel,” and “there will be six individuals (as) target of recommended charges.” Police in China were also making arrests, Ward said.

“Part of what we found, is they had two ongoing illegal casinos where the same businessmen who are part of the conspiracy were able to provide non-legal gambling for these offshore gamblers,” Ward said in August. “Now when they build the illegal casinos, there is no cash. You go to another place of business and you sign a loan. They give you credit to go gamble in the casino. So you don’t have any cash on you.”

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