Winnipeg man on welfare charged with importing Fentanyl with Bitcoin

By Christine Duhaime | April 18th, 2017

A cannabis activist has been charged with illegally importing Fentanyl from China to Canada, through Vancouver, and paying for it with Bitcoin. The Manitoba government is seeking to forfeit his assets as proceeds of crime. The defendant, Raymond Csincsa, is allegedly on welfare and alleges that the $4,780 in cash located at his home was from welfare cheques and gambling winnings. The Fentanyl was worth $14,000.

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Four indicted in US cannabis tech pump & dump scheme that allegedly scammed investors and used Canadian promoters

By Christine Duhaime | April 18th, 2017

Four people connected with a company called BioCube Inc., with connections to Canada were indicted on Friday for securities fraud and two for money laundering. They are alleged to have defrauded the public securities market by making untrue statements, omitting to make material statements and intentionally deceiving investors  - in essence, for engaging in a pump & dump scheme to rip off shareholders through what they marketed as a cannabis tech company. One of the defendants held himself out to be a “professional anti-money laundering consultant” in Cyprus.

BioCube filed statements with securities regulators that it was in the business of importing wood from Brazil, and then pivoted and filed a statement that it made batteries, then pivoted again and filed a statement in 2016 that it was now a tech company focused on infrastructure with a plan to distribute a machine to detect cannabis.

A pump & dump scheme is one whereby a group of people inflate the share price by doing things such as making false and untrue statements, not filing statements with a securities commission, obtaining shares and not reporting it, receiving finders fees and not reporting it, or failing to file press releases. In a pump & dump scheme promoters who have shares in a junior company go out and promote it illegally until the price rises and then they sell their shares. The shares usually later drop since they were held up with false information and do not recover. According to the indictment, part of the pump & dump involved concealing the beneficial owners of the shareholders of BioCube. Pump and dumps are common in Vancouver among promoters and so-called finders – which are guys who go get investments from the same players for a startup and take a finders fee, often paid under the table. Such finders used to be in mining but have ventured into tech companies. Finders are often people in securities who are not licensed or qualified as a broker and because they are not licensed or qualified, they become finders. They are required to disclose that they act as finders and are paid part of the proceeds of a financing.

Pursuant to securities law, persons who are beneficial owners of shares (who directly or indirectly have voting power or investment power of 5% or more), are required to file a registration statement to disclose their shareholdings or interests therein. The FBI alleges that BioCube structured its transactions so that the beneficial owners of the shares were hidden in order to deceive the investing public.

We use Canadian stock promoters because US promoters follow the law

During conversations that were taped by the FBI, one of the defendants recommended using Canadian stock promoters for pump and dumps  for US listed companies essentially because US promoters follow the regulations (as opposed to Canadian promoters that one assumes do not),  and that Canadian stock promoters take 30% commission on pump & dump sales of securities (without, it would appear, disclosing it). According to other recorded calls, the indicted persons allegedly used shady connections in the Dominican Republic and Panama.

We can use a Canadian website because they don’t allow the government to break in

The defendants also discussed obtaining a Canadian domain because they believed that Canadian websites prevent governments from hacking them or obtaining emails. They subsequently are alleged to have discussed laundering the proceeds of BioCube share sales by opening bank accounts in foreign countries under corporate names that were untraceable to them and then getting debit and credit cards and spending the proceeds to avoid ant-money laundering reporting and FATCA reporting.

The defendants are charged with laundering $2 million through offshore bank accounts. The four are Chris Messalas, a former securities broker previously barred from the industry by the Securities and Exchange Commission; Boris Rubizhevsky, BioCube’s former chief executive officer; attorney Michael Garnick; and Dimitros Argyros, described as an “anti-money laundering consultant.” Messalas, Rubizhevsky and Garnick were charged with securities fraud conspiracy. Messalas and Argyros were charged with money laundering conspiracy.

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Canada’s New Cannabis Act – Harsh New Offences; Money Laundering; Why Cannabis Stores Can’t Get Bank Accounts; Role of Organized Crime

By Christine Duhaime | April 17th, 2017

Canada introduced a new Cannabis law, Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, expected to come into force in July 2018. Skip to Part 2, below, if you just want to review the new law.

Part 1 – Background on Current Law, Illegal Dispensing; Denial of Bank Accounts

Illegality of Cannabis Sales Except for Medical Purposes

Until the Cannabis Act comes into force, it is illegal to sell or have cannabis except as authorized for narrow medical purposes.  Cannabis is a prohibited drug under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act similar to cocaine or opium (the latter are Schedule I and the former is Schedule II). Possessing cannabis illegally is an indictable offence which carries a term of incarceration of up to five years. To obtain cannabis for medical purposes involves a person receiving authorization from a doctor to buy a small amount for personal use from one of 42 federally licensed sellers, or to grow it themselves.

Stores known as “dispensaries” or “compassion clubs” in Canada are illegal, meaning they are not authorized to sell cannabis for medical or any other purposes. There is no so-called “grey” area in respect of the legality of dispensaries, cannabis stores or compassion clubs. Having a license from a City, or municipality, such as Vancouver, does not make a cannabis store or a dispensary “legal”, as municipal law does trump federal law.

Moreover, the cannabis products sold in stores, dispensaries and such are illegally supplied, and unregulated. The law in Canada does not permit stores, dispensaries and cannabis clubs to acquire cannabis supplies.

Until the Cannabis Act is brought into force, the only legal way to obtain cannabis is from one of the 42 licensed providers and only for legitimate medical purposes.

Except for the 42 licensed producers, it is illegal to advertise or promote the sale of cannabis. Promoting cannabis that is not authorized contravenes the Competition Act, among others.

Difficulty in Obtaining Bank Accounts

Cannabis storefront businesses often cannot get bank accounts and the reason is because only cannabis sold for medical purposes by one of 42 federally licensed providers is legal.

The indictable offence provisions that govern cannabis sales and distribution mean that the proceeds of sales that are illegal (occur at venues not federally licensed or regulated) are proceeds of crime, as that term is used in global money laundering law. Because they are proceeds of crime, financial transactions associated with those businesses, irrespective of the amount, are reportable to FINTRAC under the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act as suspicious transactions by banks, credit unions, casinos, money services businesses, accounting firms, notaries, stock brokers and insurance companies.

It is very expensive for financial institutions to monitor, report, record and generally implement systems to comply with anti-money laundering law if they were to bank cannabis stores.

In addition, the Criminal Code of Canada makes it an offence for anyone, including banks, credit unions, directors, officers, law firms, or any entity to transfer, send, deliver, transport or deal with money that they know or believe is from the illegal sale of drugs (such as may occur if a cannabis transaction is not a licensed one). As a result, no law firm (and ergo no compliance officer at a bank) can reasonably sign off on an opinion to a bank that it can provide banking services to a cannabis store, dispensary, or compassion club that is not federally licensed.

Cannabis stores operate as all-cash businesses because they cannot get bank accounts and a typology for anti-money laundering compliance officers is large volumes of cash that cannabis dispensaries try to deposit at casinos, banks, money services businesses and such.

In this story on VICE, a person who owns a number of cannabis dispensaries alleges that a credit union called CCEC provides banking service to cannabis stores in Vancouver, despite the Criminal Code, Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and that the only way to accept credit cards as a merchant is to lie to an issuing financial institution (a criminal offence and an indictable offence under the Criminal Code). Lying to an issuing financial institution to obtain financial services involves lying to obtain an incorrectly coded merchant number (for example, coded as flower sales rather than drug sales) and is not recommended. In the US, officers and directors of Canadian companies who have lied to obtain merchant codes (usually in the online gambling business) have been prosecuted for money laundering and bank fraud and faced hundreds of years in jail.

It is not impossible to get a bank account in Canada for a cannabis business but it is difficult.

Filing Suspicious Transaction Reports on Cannabis Stores etc. 

People, including lawyers, cannabis entrepreneurs and others seem to be under a misapprehension that there are no suspicious transaction reports being filed to Fintrac in Canada or FinCEN in the US in respect of cannabis operations. There are numerous such filings taking place daily because, as mentioned above, the proceeds of sales from an unlicensed cannabis business is proceeds of the commission of a crime and must be reported by reporting entities. According to DSA (here), in the US, for example, between 2014 and 2015, 84% of American states filed cannabis related suspicious activity reports to FinCEN. And interestingly, there were 374 financial entities that filed including banks, credit unions, mortgage companies, stock brokers and casinos. Instances where a bank filed a suspicious transaction report include when it terminates a banking relationship with a cannabis company for anti-money laundering law purposes.

Money Muling to Vancouver

Because cannabis stores cannot get bank accounts, they move money across the country and from Canada to the US, and vice versa. In this story, the government arrested what is called a “money mule”, a person who moves money. In this case, the money was being muled allegedly for a cannabis chain called Canna Clinic. The alleged money mule was arrested with $590,000 cash (in $20 bills) being muled to Vancouver. The owner of the cannabis store allegedly informed CRA that $590,000 was being moved to Vancouver to pay its GST. The person with the money, however, told the police the money was his and he earned it selling videos. The $590,000 is subject to an action by the government for forfeiture as proceeds of crime allegedly tied to sales from the cannabis store – the cannabis store owners appear to corroborate that story by taking the position that it is for the payment allegedly of GST they owe. For the GST owed to be $590,000, as the cannabis store allegedly informed CRA, it means that the cannabis store’s gross sales in one store in Ottawa are $11.8 million every two weeks. That is not likely.

Online Prescriptions; Sale to Minors

Vancouver has stories of minors who attend at dispensaries and are sold cannabis, and of other stories of people “consulting” doctors online in a back room of a dispensary who write an online prescription for a person to buy cannabis for purported medical purposes. According to studies by the US, 11% of children aged 15 years old and older in Canada use cannabis, and for those between the ages of 15 – 24, in Canada the rate is 24%. Canada holds the record as the country with the highest percentage of minors who use cannabis.

According to this story, a former physician, Rob Kamermans, wrote over 15 prescriptions per day for cannabis over a one year period (4,000) to strangers he met on Skype across Canada. Physicians are licensed provincially, not nationally, and cannot practice medicine beyond provincial borders. He was charged with money laundering, fraud and forgery in connection with cannabis prescriptions and his medical license was revoked for incompetence.

Associations with Criminality 

Dispensaries that are not federally authorized exist in many parts of Canada pursuant to which there appears to be little municipal enforcement to shut them down until recently when the federal government appears to have mandated a national plan to raid numerous cannabis dispensaries. Those raids are continuing, resulting in some decrease in the number of cannabis stores operating. As well, judges are being asked to ensure that employees, managers and owners of cannabis stores that are arrested and prosecuted are given criminal records. Having a criminal record will mean that those people cannot enter the cannabis business under the Cannabis Act.

This story describes how in Canada a person with a criminal record who was incarcerated, is operating cannabis stores across the country. In 2015, Canada’s Criminal Intelligence Service reported that over 50% of the 657 organized criminal groups in Canada are known or suspected to be involved illegally in the cannabis trade. A Canadian government member of Parliament said that “the decision to sell or not to sell to a child is often made by a gangster.”

Since 2013, the government has been concerned over the involvement of organized crime in the supply, distribution and sales of cannabis, recently noting that transnational criminal organizations, including the Hells Angels, are “behind most of the [illegal unlicensed] dispensaries.” And according to this story, a well-known Toronto man with alleged links to organized crime was involved in the cannabis business and even formed an association of cannabis dispensers.

In addition, Canada is the primary source of cannabis sales to the US originating from BC, Ontario and Quebec.

Because cannabis is illegal in all but one country over the globe, organized crime tends to run drug and cannabis operations. In Italy, typically this is the Mafia but  there is also Chinese Mafia in Italy taking over cannabis cultivation and trafficking. The Italian authorities are also concerned with the increased evidence of terrorists, namely ISIS (the Islamic State), trafficking cannabis through North Africa and Italy, and funding terrorist activities using the financial system. In Mexico, drug cartels are adjusting to changes in historic cannabis sales. And here, the Nigerian Mafia traffic cannabis through the Ivory Coast, laundering the proceeds in bars and running prostitution services.

And now it would appear that foreigners, including Canadians, attempting to enter the US with any connection to cannabis, are apparently being denied entry to the US permanently, or deported.

US Enforcement

Several states in the US authorize medical and recreational cannabis use, although federal law prohibits it. The Trump administration has said that it will leave medical cannabis use alone but will go after recreational uses that contravene federal law.

Both Colorado and Alaska recently backed away from plans for cannabis social clubs over concern with federal enforcement. 16 people last month in Colorado were indicted for money laundering and drug trafficking of cannabis, and their bank accounts seized. Banks are concerned with indictments because they invite AML compliance reviews and often AML fines for failures to report money laundering activities.

Last week, the new US AG, Jeff Sessions, sent a memo to members of a task force focused on crime reduction and public safety asking for a review of existing policies of the enforcement of cannabis to reduce violent crime. The new Drug Czar, Tom Marino, is not in favour of medical or recreational cannabis. All signs seem to be pointing towards federal enforcement of recreational uses of cannabis, and consistent with the Executive Orders of January calling for the prosecution of members of organized crime and foreign nationals (Canadians and Mexicans in particular), engaged in the drug trade.

Bitcoin in the picture

The focus on Canada makes sense – in addition to Canada being a major source country to the US of cannabis, Canada is also a source country of fentanyl to the US, which is imported from China and paid for with Bitcoin (this US criminal complaint describes how fentanyl is imported to the US from Hong Kong and paid for with Bitcoin; here is another similar story of fentanyl being imported using Bitcoin). Here is a story of one of many Canadians, ironically a cannabis activist on welfare, who was arrested for importing $14,000 worth of fentanyl illegally into Canada from China and paid for with Bitcoin. Apparently, US law enforcement has been to Vancouver numerous times over the issue of Bitcoin and drug importations.

Part 2 –  New Cannabis Law

Purpose

Clearly the existing cannabis system in Canada seems to have significant issues that need remediation.

Against the backdrop of the above, the purposes of the Cannabis Act are clear and they include more harsh measures to protect minors and to remove organized crime from Canada’s legitimate cannabis system.

The Cannabis Act is also designed to act as a world model, meaning that Canada’s goal is to show that legalizing drugs for recreational consumption can be done in such a way as to promote and protect the integrity of the system and respect the rule of law. There have been statements that the government will allow existing cannabis dispensaries to be registered even though they operated in violation of the law. There are parallels here as well to the gambling industry which faced a similar issue. In the gambling industry in Canada (particularly British Columbia), there was zero tolerance for previous criminality to preserve integrity of Canada’s reputation in gambling but in the UK, it was handled differently. The issue is if, and how to on-board companies and persons with a history of non-compliance with federal law into a new legal regime that is designed for compliance with the law. In other words, can a non-law abiding person or company become law abiding? Even if they can, are those the people the federal government will or should reward with a licence to operate or should the rewards go to those who have no record of breaking the law? These decisions may be left to provincial governments at the end of the day. As noted above, we have been though this process in the past in the gambling industry.

The purposes of the Cannabis Act are to:

  • make it a serious criminal offence to sale cannabis to minors;
  • make it a serious criminal offence to possess, sell, distribute, export cannabis without legal permission;
  • make it a serious criminal offence to promote, advertise, label or package cannabis to appeal to minors;
  • establish regulations and a registration system for cannabis that will determine who can enter the sector; and
  • to increase the penalties for drug-related offenses connected to cannabis.

Registration to Sell, Distribute

Under the Cannabis Act, the government will establish classes of registration including for selling, transporting, distributing, delivering, testing, producing and advertising of cannabis.

Disclosure of beneficial owners

In order to be registered, a legal person must disclosure its shareholders and controlling persons, whether indirect or direct – so beneficial shareholders, investors, those who hold pledges of shares and such will be relevant.

Integrity 

In order to address integrity issues affecting the market, a person will not be registered or licensed if they are associated with criminality, such that there is a risk of cannabis under their control being diverted to organized crime or illicit markets; they make false statements or omitted material information; they contravened the Controlled Dugs & Substances Act; or there are reasonable grounds to believe they contravened an order under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Other grounds for refusal include not getting a security clearance and circumstances when it is not in the public interest to register a person. Whether formerly operating a cannabis store in violation of federal law will disqualify a company or a person from being registered (because breaking the law is not in the public interest or rewarding a company or a person for years of breaking the law), has yet to be determined by the government. But that is the key issue.

Provincial control

The Cannabis Act allows the provinces to regulate the selling and distribution of cannabis if provincial regulation is consistent with the Cannabis Act. However, like gaming control legislation, the authority to operate a cannabis business will only be provincial – a company will not be able to operate across provincial boundaries absent the provinces entering into inter-provincial agreements. Unless the regulations say something different, companies will need to register in each province to operate there.

Distribution of Cannabis

Under the Cannabis Act, it is prohibited to distribute illegal cannabis, to distribute cannabis to a person under 18-years-old or to distribute cannabis to any person above a certain amount without being registered and authorized to do so.

Possession of Cannabis

Under the Cannabis Act, it is prohibited to possess cannabis above a certain amount, or to possess illegal cannabis.

Advertising of Cannabis

Under the Cannabis Act, it is prohibited to promote cannabis, or an accessory of it, or any service associated with it by communicate information about its price, in a way that would appeal to minors, to have testimonials, or to depict people or animals, or that includes emotions, glamour, excitement, vitality or daring.

It is also prohibited to include false or misleading advertising or comments in respect of cannabis.

And it is prohibited to advertise or promote cannabis outside of Canada or to sponsor events, or name a facility after cannabis – like a hockey arena or a one-off event, like a concert.

Selling to Minors

Under the Cannabis Act, it is prohibited to sell cannabis to a minor and it is also prohibited to sell cannabis or an accessory with an appearance that is appealing to minors.

Importing / Exporting

Under the Cannabis Act, it is prohibited to import or export cannabis without authorization.

Offences

Selling, distributing, importing or exporting cannabis to a person without being registered to do so, or selling to a minor, is an indictable offence (relevant for money laundering legislation) and carries a term of incarceration of up to 14 years.

The term of incarceration for possession is up to 5 years.

Regulations

The majority of the legislation refers key provisions to regulations, which because it is delegated legislation, means that they will be drafted without parliamentary review and/or approval. The material parts of the regulations will include the registration requirements.

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Accountant explains the benefits of tax havens

By Christine Duhaime | April 7th, 2017

If you ever wondered how it is that lawyers learn about tax havens, it is from texts such as the series called “Tax Havens of the World”, written by Walter Diamond, who was an accountant at Deloitte and KPMG, and a prolific teacher of the benefits of tax havens.

“Tax Havens of the World” was updated annually until 2009, the year Mr. Diamond died. Surprisingly, Mr. Diamond started out as bank examiner but somehow wound his way into writing text books for lawyers for 25 years that promoted the use of tax havens to defeat law enforcement and government oversight.

In “Tax Havens of the World”, he writes of the many benefits and advantages of tax havens and summarizes each of them. He also writes about their usefulness and explains why lawyers, and corporations, among others, should use them. The key benefits, he writes, include:

  • to cloak foreign bank accounts in secrecy;
  • to shift investments without being taxed;
  • to give privacy to financial dealings and what your financial assets are; and
  • to have no government control.

The aim of “Tax Havens of the World” is to provide a “shopping guide” to select the best country to cloak one’s money and protect it from government control. Mr. Diamond remarked that tax havens were the target of unfair “virulent attacks” by governments and accusatory tactics by the FATF.

Each country highlighted by Mr. Diamond conveniently lists things like how to set up trusts versus foundations, how to set up companies, and the strength of its anti-money laundering enforcement, as well as what has to be disclosed to authorities if you park money in that jurisdiction.

Despite what appears to be the questionable legality of some of the advice to use tax havens to cloak banks accounts in secrecy and avoid taxes, Mr. Diamond’s text books are still available at law schools around the world. Including in British Columbia.

Mr. Diamond was obviously not a lawyer – otherwise he would have been prohibited from publishing such content – but also he entirely mis-comprehended the reach and power of global anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financial legislation which is to make sure we can un-cloak every dollar you park in a tax haven.

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Issues in Financial Crime, Technology, RegTech, Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning

By Christine Duhaime | March 23rd, 2017

3rd Annual Vancouver FinTech Conference

The 3rd Annual Financial Technology Conference in Vancouver takes place on May 3, 2017, which we co-sponsor. This year’s Conference focuses on “FinTech, RegTech and Financial Crime” and will cover the nexus between technology solutions to address regulation (RegTech), law, money laundering, terrorist financing, compliance, fraud, identity management, corruption, real estate tech and on-boarding / de-risking.

The idea is to advance the dialogue to deep-dive into the issues at the level where it matters – law, policy and financial transactional monitoring and explore solutions that work, including importantly, artificial intelligence and financial crime.

In the lead up to the conference, we’ll be populating this page with those topics to identify some of the issues worth exploring that the experts at the Conference can address.

Confirmed speakers are at FinTech 2017 are:

  • Fintrac
  • RCMP
  • BCLC
  • D-Wave
  • ACAMS
  • Vancouver Sun
  • Globe & Mail
  • Evolocity
  • ChatBo
  • Elk
  • Baker Marquart
  • Duhaime Law
  • BLG
  • Bryan Cave
  • Polsinelli
  • Middle East Bank

1. Issues in cyber-security

Cybercrime costs the global economy $500 billion annually and ransomware attacks rose to 4,000 per day in 2016, forcing companies to pay $400 million in ransom in Bitcoin in 2016. As the world becomes connected (20 billion devices by 2020) with robots, cars, medical equipment, phones and refrigerators all inter-connected, the threats will grow.

Americans have said plainly that we are “in the fight for our digital lives and are not winning the cyber-security war” from China to Russia, hackers are stealing intellectual property from tech firms on a daily basis, as well as financial data and health care records. In addition, Americans have said that terrorists are crowd sourcing the murder of innocent people.

Cyber criminals are winning for many reasons including that there are more criminals than law enforcement can deal with; the law has not kept up with cyber attacks and nor is there the budget to address it properly; there are serious information challenges between the public and private sectors because the private sector does not report cyber crime; there is no deterrence in the cyber realm to prevent further cyber attacks; and terrorists are using social media and end-to-end encryption on their phones to cover their tracks.

The US is also noting that critical infrastructure is a critical vulnerability with criminals now leaving their digital fingerprints on purpose as a warning.

The battlespace is –> your cellular phone.

2. Money laundering tech

Some recurring issues affecting money laundering is the lack of manpower to investigate cases. Prosecutors have found that when tips come in from the public (informants or whistle blowers) about money laundering or transnational criminal organizations, the information tends to be accurate and point law enforcement immediately to the key players and where the crimes can be detected. Those cases tend to be the ones that are pursued by law enforcement.

What type of money laundering tech is being developed, and does it include mechanisms to allow the public to report money laundering cases?

3. China and money laundering / corruption

China was slow to implement anti-money laundering controls and its regulatory effectiveness is “relatively low because [for ten years], a lot of money laundering activities were not detected and there was much capital flight from China” (Shan Xi Normal University).

From 2008 – 2013, Chinese financial institutions filed 45,000,000 suspicious activity reports annually to their FIU. Yet although it files 187 times more suspicious activity reports than the US, it averages about 7 arrests a year for money laundering.

The relevant law in China for money laundering that addresses the predicate offenses have some limitations compared to other countries. For example, the predicate offenses are drugs, gangsterism, smuggling, corruption, bribery, destruction of financial records and financial fraud, gambling and tax crimes.

The percentage of predicate offenses for money laundering in China:

  • Corruption 42.08%
  • Financial fraud 11.76%
  • Destruction of records 8.6%
  • Drugs 8%
  • Smuggling 8%
  • Tax crimes 5.88%
  • Gambling 4.98%
  • Gangsterim 2.71%

Types of customers involved in money laundering in China:

  • Politically exposed persons 57.58%
  • Private companies and their shareholders 27.7%
  • Cash management companies such as insurance, real estate and securities firms 15.15%

A report from a university on money laundering refers to Canada as a jurisdiction where politically exposed persons launder money and “abscond overseas.” Given that China has lax money laundering compliance itself, what does that mean for Canada, as a key destination?

4. De-risking

The past 15 years has been unprecedented enforcement action in connection with anti-money laundering law such that in 2014, over $15 billion in fines were levied by US regulators, causing de-risking as banks attempted to limit their risks. However, there is concern over the chilling effect this has on cross-border trade because banks are eliminating correspondent banking relationships. The fear of liability and of AML / CTF compliance is killing banks in high risk areas. According to two studies, between 31% to 60% of banks say AML / CTF costs are the reason for de-risking of correspondent banks. Other surveys 40% of banks and corporations said that AML / CTF was a significant impediment to trade finance and over 70% said they declined transactions because of AML / CTF.

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US rates Canada once again as a “major money laundering country” in annual drug report

By Christine Duhaime | March 12th, 2017

1. Canada once again a “Major Money Laundering” country

The 2017 “International Narcotics Control Strategy Report” (INCSR) published in March 2017 by the U.S. Department of State identifies Canada once again as a “major money laundering country” along with a host of mostly risky countries for financial crime such as Afghanistan, Argentina, Brazil, BVI, Cayman Islands, Cambodia, China, Columbia, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Guernsey, Jersey, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mexico, Macau,  Saudi Arabia, Somalia and the UK.

A “major money laundering country” is one whose banks and financial institutions allow financial transactions involving significant amounts of proceeds of crime. For several years in a row, Canada has been identified as such (see our other annual reviews here (2016), here (2014), here (2013) and here (2012)).

There is lots that is new in the 2017 INCSR for Canada, as described below, showing that the drug trade and consequently, the money laundering landscape, has changed in one year but one theme is that there are more concerns raised between Canada and China – in particular, fentanyl, proceeds of corruption landing in Canada and bulk cash smuggling.

Lots has been removed about Canada that isn’t completely justified in the sense that the needle has not moved over our record for battling, deterring and prosecuting financial crimes, and the risks identified in the earlier Reports are still relevant. However, one can get a complete view of the risks to banks and other reporting entities in a compliance sense from reading the summaries of 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, linked above, and this 2017 summary, collectively, in preparation of a risk-assessement and on boarding purposes.

The good news though is that compared to previous INCSRs, Canada has improved and the weaknesses are more siloed.

2. What’s new in 2017 INCSR for Canada compared to 2016 report

Money laundering from tax evasion & corruption; lax conviction rate

According to the Report this year, money laundering in Canada is originating from tax evasion, corruption, as well as the usual drug trafficking, fraud, and such. And the main methods of money laundering have shifted to include Bitcoin, offshore corporations, bulk cash smuggling, money services businesses and real estate.

The Report mentions the exemption of lawyers as a deficiency in the anti-money laundering regime.

The Report says Canada should enhance enforcement and convictions for money laundering.

China

A lot was changed about China in relation to Canada this year in the Report, curiously. However, this year’s report says that the main source of proceeds of crime from China is from corruption involving state-owned enterprise and that criminals are laundering money mostly by bulk cash smuggling, fake large international trade invoices (trade-based money laundering), gambling and real estate.

Fentanyl entering Canada from China by mail

The Report states that fentanyl is originating in China and entering the US via Canada or Mexico, making Canada a source country. The fentanyl that enters Canada from China is by mail. Heroin is being altered with low-cost synthetic opioids, especially fentanyl, by drug dealers which can be 25 to 50 times more potent than heroin. Fentanyl is also pressed into pill form and sold as counterfeit prescription opioid pills. Drug takers are not aware of the large quantities of fentanyl, causing thousands of overdoes fatalities in Canada and the US.

Opium coming to Canada from Afghanistan

Afghanistan is the major supplier of opium derivatives to Canada and Europe. Insurgent groups in Afghanistan generate revenues by taxing drugs passing through regions they control [before the drugs reach Canada].

Meth produced in large quantities in Canada

Alpha-phenylacetoacetonitrile, the pre-cursor for methamphetamine, has been found in large quantitates in Canada.

Stay away from the Dominican Republic

Perhaps as a sobering thought for Canadians not to visit the Dominican Republic, the Report says that there is corruption in the Dominican Republic among the military and law enforcement agencies and it remains a significant impediment to law enforcement efforts, noting that the prosecution of corrupt officials rarely happens. Moreover, the judiciary is politicized and accused of corruption. According to the Report, the legal system offers little recourse to those who lack money or influence (e.g., can’t buy their way out). The FIU is not effective but if there is some good news, it is that the Report notes that the US has been effective in extracting criminals from the Dominican Republic to the US for prosecution.

Canada used for Laundering Funds for a Listed Terrorist Group and for Organized Criminal Gangs from China, Mexico & Columbia

Also noted was that a transnational organized crime group affiliated with Altaf Khanani from Pakistan uses Canada and other countries such as UAE and Australia, to launder billions of dollars in proceeds of crime every year for crime gangs from China, Columbia, Mexico and for the listed terrorist organization, Hezbollah. According to the Report, Altaf Khanani has also moved terrorist funds for the Taliban.

3. Key Findings

Volume 1 - The key findings of Volume 1 on the drug trade vis a vis Canada are:

  • Large amounts of fentanyl from China enter Canada by mail.
  • Canada is a major producer of precursor chemicals used in the production of illicit narcotics, along with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Columbia, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Mexico and several other countries.
  • Cannabis destined for the US is produced mostly in British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario.
  • Canada is a primary source country of high potency marijuana and estasy to the US.
  • Canadian synthetic drugs and amphetamine stimulants are exported to the US, Asia and Australia.
  • Cocaine continues to enter Canada from South America and Mexico, some of which is transited through the US.

Volume 2 - The key findings in respect of money laundering  in Volume 2 for Canada are:

  • Money laundering activities in Canada are primarily from tax evasion, corruption, illegal drug trafficking, fraud, piracy and tobacco smuggling.
  • Laundering methods in Canada have changed slightly and now involve smuggling, money services businesses, casinos, real estate, wire transfers, offshore companies, credit cards and digital currencies like Bitcoin.
  • Also noted was that bulk cash smuggling into Canada is “widespread”.
  • Gangs from Vietnam are a significant source of illicit funds.
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SEC denies approval for Bitcoin Trust over multiple market integrity issues

By Christine Duhaime | March 11th, 2017

The Securities Exchange Commission has denied an application for the creation of a Bitcoin Trust based primarily on issues related to preservation of the integrity of the capital markets.

The decision is what was expected from a financial crime and integrity perspective.

The decision can be read here. The gist of the negative findings of fact that formed the basis of the decision are that:

  • There is no regulation or oversight for the worldwide market of exchanges used to trade Bitcoin; 
  • There are few (if any) Bitcoin exchanges anywhere that are regulated for fiduciary and custodial activities);
  • The price of Bitcoin is dominated by activities in China; and
  • The bulk of trading of Bitcoin occurs outside of the US where there is no regulation in place.

It remains true that Bitcoin can be bought, sold and transacted upon with complete anonymity and thus, its activity is inconsistent and irreconcilable with the obligations for transparency and integrity of the capital markets.

Unless we are dealing with a closed micro exchange (which no one has yet established), it is impossible in an environment of anonymous wallet holders, to comply with anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financial law, or sanctions law.

Bitcoin exchanges have also said on many occasions that they are unable to freeze any account of Bitcoin that is suspected, or know to be, terrorist property because they allege that only a holder of a Bitcoin wallet can access and control its activities. For example, they go further and allege that if a private key is lost by a wallet holder, there is no way to recover the funds invested to buy Bitcoin, and thus, for capital markets, this also an impediment to market regulation as it results in unjust enrichment of the Bitcoin exchanges and it makes the exchanges incapable of complying with terrorism and sanctions laws prohibiting the dealing of terrorist property.

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Casino executives alleged to have been collecting debts when arrested in China

By Christine Duhaime | March 10th, 2017

According to this article, the 18 executives of Crown casinos that were arrested in China in October 2016, were in China to collect the debts of what are called “VIP customers” who go on gambling trips through junket schemes. One of the people arrested was Jason O’Connor, who was the VIP executive for Crown Casinos, allegedly responsible for luring rich people from China to gamble in Australia.

It is illegal to solicit gambling services to people in China. O’Connor is believed to have been arrested in October 2016 and has been incarcerated ever since with 17 other Crown employees. When he was arrested, the Crown casino’s VIP operations plummeted 45%. Most large casinos in close proximity to China make money mostly relying upon VIP gambling operations. In Macau, it is Mainland Chinese sub-contractors who arrange the junkets. In the case of Crown, according to this article, it set up offices in China to directly solicit VIP gamblers, rather than using established junket operators.

The arrest was in the midst of something called “Operation Chain Break”, a Chinese operation to stop money laundering through Macau by junket operators but the operation appears to have widened.

The arrest in China is going to require a review by the gambling regulator of the registration of the Australian gambling operations. That is because the arrest and incarceration of Crown employees in China affects the integrity of gambling in Australia.

You can learn more about junkets from our two-part series: “Macau casino junket operators use trade show to polish image” here and “Macau casinos face regulatory balancing act amid international money laundering concerns” here.

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Politically exposed Chinese foreign national pleads guilty to immigration fraud

By Christine Duhaime | March 9th, 2017

Shilan Zhao (趙世蘭), the ex-wife of a Chinese official and a politically exposed person, has pleaded guilty to immigration fraud related to the EB5 investor visa program in the US and will serve a term of incarceration of five years.

Zhao conspired with her husband, Jianjun Qiao (喬建軍), aka Feng Li, to immigrate to the US fraudulently and settle in Washington State. He is wanted in China for embezzling over $50 million in state funds acquired while serving as the director of a state-owned grain company, Sinograin,  in the Henan province. He is on China’s Most Wanted list.

By 2012, Zhao had moved about US$2.2 million in what the US government called “laundered funds” from China to banks in Vancouver and parked the funds there in anticipation of immigration to the US. Those banks were RBC and HSBC. Zhao also bought homes in the Vancouver area.

According to the investigation by the IRS and DHS, Qiao and Zhao transferred about US$700,000 to HSBC in Vancouver in 6 transactions in 2011; then transferred another $1.6 million to another HSBC account in Vancouver; and in 2012, they cashed out over $2 million from a Royal Bank account; and transferred a further $700,000 from RBC to buy property in the US.

Zhao applied to the US under the EB5 program using falsified documents, including fake documents ostensibly proving the source of her investment to qualify under the EB5 program to obtain a US visa. In reliance upon those fake documents, Zhao was approved to immigrate to the US.

In this article, the Chinese Foreign Minister confirms that the people of China “care greatly about bringing back fugitives and recovering their assets.” So far, 2,500 fugitives from more than 90 countries were returned to China on charges of corruption and economic crimes.  38 are on the list of 100 most wanted fugitives.

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Mafia dad and his 3 children sentenced to long jail terms for illegal gambling

By Christine Duhaime | February 26th, 2017

According to several news reports in Italy (here, here and here), a whole family of the ‘Ndrangheta, an international criminal organization that originated in Italy, was convicted Wednesday of illegally operating online gambling websites after a three year trial called “Black Monkey”.

Nicola Femia, his daughter and two sons were sentenced to 56 years incarceration collectively in Bologna, Italy. They ran several online gambling websites hosted in Romania and the UK that provided services to Italians online at 888Suite.com, Vivacasinoelite.com, Vanillascasino.com and Davidcasino.com and also operated a series of slot machines and VLTs across Italy, collecting debts in violent ways from gamblers.

Femia is alleged to have paid €100,000 to a member of the local police to try to influence the outcome of his trial by attempting to bribe the judge. The policeman and the financial intermediary were arrested in October 2013.

In 2008, the U.S. Department of the Treasury added the ‘Ndrangheta to the Office of Foreign Assets Control Specially Designated Nationals list. The ‘Ndrangheta are present in Toronto and in the northern parts of Toronto and once a person is affiliated with them, there is no such thing as ending the relationship.

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