VANCOUVER -- A commission of inquiry into money laundering in British Columbia is adding former and current cabinet ministers to its witness list.

On its website, the Cullen commission says former premier Christy Clark is among those scheduled to testify later this month.

Former B.C. Liberal cabinet ministers Rich Coleman, Michael de Jong and Kash Heed will also testify, along with Shirley Bond, the party's interim leader who served as Clark's public safety minister and attorney general.

The commission says Attorney General David Eby will testify as well.

They are expected to testify from April 19 to 30.

The B.C. government appointed 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.

The province granted the commission an extension in March to produce its final report, which is now due on Dec. 15.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 6, 2021. 

What to watch for as former cabinet ministers testify in B.C. money laundering inquiry

April 18, 2021

British Columbians will hear directly from former cabinet ministers for the first time this week, as B.C.’s inquiry into money laundering enters a new phase.

Former BC Liberal premier Christy Clark and former finance minister Mike de Jong, Opposition Leader Shirly Bond, along with a handful of key deputy ministers, are set to testify before the Cullen Commission in the days to come.

Global News will carry the testimony live.

In a year dominated by COVID-19, University of the Fraser Valley political science professor Hamish Telford said it will be the first time many in B.C. sit up and take notice of the proceedings.

“For many people in the public, this is the most important week, where we finally get to hear from the top players and whether they’re going to assume responsibility for what transpired with the casinos,” Telford told Global News.

READ MORE: Former high-ranking Mountie says there was no will to crack down on money laundering in B.C. casinos

“I think a lot of people will be looking for some expressions of sorrow at least and taking responsibility for this.”

Former gaming minister Rich Coleman, former public safety minister and solicitor general Kash Heed and current attorney general David Eby are all scheduled to testify the following week.

To this point, the commission has heard from former ranking police officers, casino staff, gaming regulators and other industry insiders.

Click to play video: 'Author of B.C. money laundering testifies before Cullen Commission'Author of B.C. money laundering testifies before Cullen Commission
Author of B.C. money laundering testifies before Cullen Commission – Apr 12, 2021

Testimony to date has alleged a lack of political will to crack down on suspicious cash transactions and that the B.C. Lottery Corporation and casino managers pursued revenue from high rollers, despite being warned by investigators that gaming facilities were being used to launder money by transnational drug gangs.

With political decision-makers now taking the stand, Telford said he’ll be watching for how much they knew about the issue.

“To my recollection, the premier’s name has not come up. So how much was she in the loop on this and what is she going to say? So I think that’s what everyone is waiting to hear,” he said.

READ MORE: ‘Vancouver Model’ money laundering connects B.C., Las Vegas and Macau casinos, inquiry hears

“The next thing I’ll be looking for is the consistency of testimony across the ministers that testify. Do they tell the same story? And if so, is it a plausible story that they are telling or do they have different recollections, remembering that they served at different times and would have dealt with different officials?

Click to play video: 'Former head of B.C. gambling regulator testifies at Cullen Commission'Former head of B.C. gambling regulator testifies at Cullen Commission
Former head of B.C. gambling regulator testifies at Cullen Commission – Feb 8, 2021

“From the point of view of the commission, the coming weeks’ testimony may not be all that crucial in completing its final report,” Telford said.

But for the public, he said the coming testimony could be the “pinnacle of the inquiry,” as much of what’s been said to date has been complex and at points procedural, making it relatively inaccessible to the casual news consumer.

READ MORE: BC Lottery Corp. CEO ignored federal anti-money laundering direction on bags of cash: inquiry

He said that’s set to change as the public hears from people they know well, and may trust or have voted for.

“I’m not expecting any bombshells, to be honest. We’ve heard some pretty serious accusations, but I’m guessing the ministers will be telling a different story,” he said.

“They’re very skilled communicators and I think they will sound plausible and credible. So it will be up to the commissioner if there is conflicting testimony to determine whose evidence is most credible.”

Telford will also be closely watching Eby’s testimony, noting that the attorney general will need to sound credible, and not appear to be trying to score partisan points.

READ MORE: BCLC board chair didn’t brief minister on international money-laundering scheme, inquiry hears

For the public tuning in, Telford cautioned that what’s heard over the next two weeks will not tell the whole story of the inquiry.

“The public needs to reserve judgment until we get the commissioner’s report. That’s the moment when we get the whole story, the parsed evidence, if you will, by the commissioner who determines what is credible,” he said.

“That’s what we really need to look for and the recommendations that he puts forward associated with his findings.”

Below is the upcoming Cullen Commission schedule:

April 19, 2021

  • Sam MacLeod, Assistant Deputy Minister and General Manager, Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch
April 20, 2021
  • Christy Clark, Former Premier
April 21, 2021
  • Kevin Begg, Former Assistant Deputy Minister, Policing and Community Safety Branch; Former Director of Police Services
April 22, 2021
  • Lori Wanamaker, Deputy Minister to the Premier, Cabinet Secretary and Head of the British Columbia Public Service; Former Deputy Minister of Finance; Former Deputy Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General
  • Shirley Bond, Leader of the Opposition; Former Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General; Former Attorney General and Minister of Justice
April 23, 2021
  • Michael de Jong, Opposition Attorney General Critic; Former Minister of Finance
April 26, 2021
  • David Eby, Attorney General; Former Opposition Spokesperson for Gaming
April 27, 2021
  • Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland, Former Associate Deputy Minister of Finance
April 28, 2021
  • Rich Coleman, Former Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General; Former Minister of Housing and Social Development; Former Minister of Energy and Mines and Minister Responsible for Housing
April 29, 2021
  • Richard Fyfe, Deputy Attorney General
April 30, 2021
  • Kash Heed, Former Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General; Former Chief Constable, West Vancouver Police Department
  • Ex-B.C. premier Christy Clark says she wasn’t warned of ‘spike’ in money laundering until 2015

    The Cullen Commission on money laundering in B.C. is hearing testimony from a series of high-profile witnesses, beginning Tuesday with former premier Christy Clark. John Hua reports.

    Former B.C. premier Christy Clark was pressed to answer in the province’s money laundering inquiry how much she knew about increasing volumes of suspected drug cash in B.C. casinos, whether she recognized this cash was boosting government revenue, and whether she did anything to intervene.

    On Tuesday, Clark, who was premier from 2011 to 2017, was the first of a number of senior B.C. politicians scheduled to testify at the inquiry, which is mandated to determine whether governments, police and regulators failed to tackle money laundering as it took root in B.C.’s economy.

    The Cullen Commission has previously heard that suspicious cash transactions driven by high rollers, transnational gangsters and underground bankers grew exponentially from 2010 in B.C. casinos, and that Rich Coleman, the former gaming minister, was directly warned of surging dirty-money concerns by his subordinates at the gaming regulator at a 2010 meeting.

    By late 2014, these Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch investigators were forecasting that suspected drug-money laundering in B.C.’s casinos would reach $200 million per year.

    READ MORE: BC Lottery Corp. didn’t block mysterious casino cash due to ‘hundreds of millions’ in estimated losses: inquiry

    But during her examination, Clark said it wasn’t until 2015, after her then-finance minister Mike de Jong took casinos over from Coleman, that she was directly informed of an “all-time high” spike in suspicious cash transactions. Within two weeks of de Jong’s report, Clark said, the pair worked together to implement the Joint Illegal Gaming Investigation Team, a special casino-crime police task force.

    The commission has previously heard there had been a complete void for police enforcement in B.C. government casinos after 2009, when the BC Liberals and Coleman decided to disband a provincial anti-illegal gaming police unit.

    READ MORE: Former BC Liberal minister accused of letting gangs launder money in government casinos

    Commission lawyer Patrick McGowan grilled Clark on whether she was aware from 2011 of increasingly urgent reports coming from the enforcement branch and casino surveillance units, showing that bags of $20 bills were being commonly used by high rollers to buy casino chips and that the cash was dropped off inside or near casinos.

    “If you had been told that someone was dropping off a shopping bag at midnight containing $200,000 in $20 bills and that was being accepted by service providers, would that have been something you thought was appropriate?” McGowan asked Clark. “If your minister had told you that was happening, would you have raised some concern or intervened?”

    “I can’t answer questions about what might have happened, but I can say we took significant actions,” Clark, who is now a senior adviser with business law firm Bennett Jones, said.

    McGowan also asked if Clark was aware of her government’s decision to raise betting limits for baccarat high rollers to $100,000 per hand in 2013, even while the enforcement branch was escalating concerns that transnational gangs were using those players and B.C. casinos to launder cash.

    READ MORE: BC Lottery Corp. CEO says casino bet limits rose to $100K despite link to underground banks

    Clark said she wasn’t aware of the decision.

    “The idea was never to get revenue at the expense of public safety or public confidence in our casino system,” she said.

    In one tense series of questions, McGowan repeatedly asked whether Clark had ever questioned whether the surging volumes of cash that had been reported to the BC Lottery Corporation as suspicious were accepted by B.C. casinos or refused. In fact, the vast majority of these suspicious transactions were accepted, McGowan noted.

    “Did you ever inquire whether these funds were accepted by casinos and recorded as revenue for the province?” he asked.

    “I think I already answered that question,” Clark said, while pointing to her decision to start the joint investigation team after 2015.

    “You keep saying you have answered the question, and with respect, I don’t think you have,” McGowan shot back. “It’s a relatively simple one. Did you ask whether this money that was recorded as suspicious was accepted by casinos and ultimately gamed with, and contributed to the provincial revenue? Or (whether the cash was) refused? Did you make that inquiry?”

    “I didn’t,” Clark said. “I knew that we were going to do what we did instead. Which was, we created (the joint team). If your question is, ‘Did I do something about it?’, my answer is yes.”

    Click to play video: 'Former V.I.P. gambler and former dealer testify at Cullen Commission'Former V.I.P. gambler and former dealer testify at Cullen Commission
    Former V.I.P. gambler and former dealer testify at Cullen Commission – Mar 3, 2021

    Clark said her government’s move to start the joint team after 2015 ultimately stemmed from a recommendation made in an anti-money laundering report that was completed for then-minister Coleman in 2011.

    Coleman had called for the report, the inquiry has heard, after a series of media reports in 2011 that pointed to one RCMP officer’s concerns about massive and suspicious cash transactions in Vancouver-area casinos.

    “Is there any reason if (the suspicious cash problem) was deemed urgent, why (implementing the team) couldn’t have been done in 2011 rather than 2015?” McGowan asked Clark.

    She said she and de Jong moved with “lightening speed” to create the unit as soon as de Jong received a report showing suspicious cash spiking to an all-time high in B.C. Lottery Corp. casinos.

    Meanwhile, McGowan and a lawyer for Transparency International Canada asked Clark whether her government had taken any actions to study whether money laundering could be inflating B.C. housing prices.

    Clark said there had been no reason to because experts had informed her government that B.C.’s economic growth, low interest rates, and high rates of immigration were the cause of its surging real estate values, and not money laundering.

    The hearings will continue, with de Jong scheduled to testify on Friday, and Coleman and current B.C. Attorney General David Eby scheduled the following week.

Today is the day former BC Premier Christy Clark appears before the Cullen Commission looking to get to the bottom of money laundering in BC casinos. It is also the day the province's political reporters will be in budget lock up.