Reports of money laundering at British Columbia casinos had the attention of the government a decade ago, says the interim leader of the Liberal party who was then the minister in charge of gaming.
But Shirley Bond said Thursday civil forfeiture, gang violence and gambling addiction were also major concerns when the gaming file was part of her duties as the solicitor general and minister of public safety in 2011.
She told the commission looking into money laundering in the province that as minister she implemented most recommendations of a government report on anti-money laundering strategies.
However, the report’s call to create a cross-agency task force to investigate and gather intelligence on suspicious activities at casinos was delayed under her watch, Bond said.
The government appointed B.C. Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen in May 2019 to lead the public inquiry into money laundering after three reports outlined how hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal cash affected B.C.’s real estate, luxury vehicle and gaming sectors.
Bond said reports of money laundering at casinos were a matter of concern when gaming was part of her ministry.
“I certainly think the government’s response to media reports … meant that it was on the government’s radar screen,” she said. “It certainly had government’s attention.”
The responsibility for gaming was transferred away from Bond to another ministry in early 2012.
Bond testified she could not recall being advised by top-ranking government gaming investigators that organized crime groups were suspected of providing large cash loans to casino patrons as part of a money laundering scheme.
“To the best of my recollection, that was not raised directly with me as minister,” she said.
Bond said she never discussed reports of millions of dollars of suspicious cash at casinos being linked to money laundering and organized crime with former premier Christy Clark.
“I do not remember having a specific conversation with her about that,” said Bond.
Clark told the public inquiry earlier this week she first heard from sources within the government in 2015 about a spike in suspicious cash at casinos.
The inquiry is expected to hear testimony from more former and current B.C. politicians in the coming days.
Former Liberal cabinet ministers Mike de Jong and Rich Coleman and current New Democrat Attorney General David Eby are scheduled to testify.
Earlier Thursday, Premier John Horgan’s top bureaucrat testified she did not tell Coleman, the former Liberal gaming minister, to stop the flow of illegal cash at casinos.
Lori Wanamaker denied saying, “Rich, we have to do something about this,” during a meeting with Coleman and former gaming investigator Larry Vander Graaf.
“I would never refer to the minister by his given name,” said Wanamaker, a former deputy minister in the Liberal government and now Horgan’s deputy minister, cabinet secretary and head of the public service.
The B.C. government granted the commission an extension in March to produce its final report, which is now due on Dec. 15.
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