Posted on: April 30, 2021, 06:21h.
Last updated on: April 30, 2021, 06:21h.
Former British Columbia gaming minister Rich Coleman says accusations he turned a blind eye to casino money laundering to protect a crucial government revenue stream are “ridiculous.”
Coleman was giving testimony this week at the Cullen Commission, a public investigation into the money laundering epidemic that saw hundreds of millions washed through BC casinos, most of it on Coleman’s watch.
The inquiry is examining whether the province’s former Liberal government conspired with the BC Lottery Corp. (BCLC) to wilfully ignore the issue, as has been alleged by some former gaming investigators.
Critics say the BCLC is conflicted because it is a casino operator as well as the body that provides regulatory oversight to the casino sector. Documents presented at this week’s hearing showed BC gaming revenues rocketed from about C$880 million in 2005 to C$1.6 billion in 2012. BCLC officials receive personal bonuses for achieving their revenue goals.
Coleman Hamstrung on Money Laundering
Last November, Fred Pinnock, who was commander of BC’s Illegal Gaming Enforcement Team (IGET), testified that he held Coleman “largely responsible” for the criminal gangs that were “out of control” at BC Lottery Corp-operated casinos.
Pinnock’s unit was disbanded by Coleman in 2009, a year after it compiled a damning report on the casinos’ infiltration by organized crime. BC’s money laundering epidemic reached its height around 2015.
Coleman told the commission that he didn’t ignore the suspicious cash flowing through the casinos but was hamstrung legally on what he could do about it.
My question was a number of times, so if these are illicit funds, why can’t we seize them?” said Coleman. “And the advice I got back is we can’t prove that they are.”
“There was never ever, that I saw in all the time I was in government, a point where somebody said, ‘Ignore a revenue stream that could be illegal for the benefit of government.’”
Why Was IGET Disbanded?
Asked why he disbanded IGET, Coleman explained he believed the unit was ineffective and understaffed and that the Treasury board would not have continued funding it.
Coleman is a former police officer who oversaw gaming in the province between 2001and 2013 and is a former interim leader of the opposition. He is now retired from politics.
Due to take the stand on Friday is Kash Heed, formerly BC’s solicitor general and the police chief for West Vancouver. Pinnock has testified that Heed was privately critical of Coleman’s attitude to the money laundering issue.
Pinnock has presented secret recordings of conversations between himself and Heed in which Heed says Coleman was the head of an “unethical network” that was responsible for a “tsunami of money laundering” in BC casinos.