B.C.’s former Liberal government should immediately release uncensored cabinet documents related to money laundering to a commission into the issue, Attorney General David Eby said Monday.
Such documents are traditionally secret, Eby said.
While cabinet documents cannot be obtained publically under access to information legislation for 15 years, a parliamentary convention holds that previous governments retain authority over such with a right to determine what gets released.
But, he said, a previous administration can allow public servants to release such documents. The issue he, said, is that a Liberal delegate would work with bureaucrats to release such records.
That delegate, he said, is former finance minister Mike de Jong, who could be called as a witness by Commissioner Austin Cullen.
He said de Jong wants to decide which documents should be released.
“He is in a profound conflict of interest,” Eby said.
Eby said he has requested the documents but not seen them.
Eby said the Abbotsford West MLA “is the last person, perhaps the last person on earth, who should be taking on this job.” Eby said de Jong likely has “detailed knowledge” of the money laundering situation, information Eby said was made known to de Jong while in government.
Eby said de Jong either kept the problem secret “or was so bad at his job that he did not know what was going on.”
De Jong, however, said the commissioner will get whatever it asks for without redactions.
He countered Eby’s charges with a comment that the attorney general ‘s “propensity to comment inaccurately on my correspondence.
“The important work deserves to be undertaken independently and free from the partisan rhetoric the present attorney general appears incapable of refraining from.”
Indeed, de Jong released a letter he wrote to the commission two weeks ago saying he would provide all it needs.
The commissioner begins hearings today in Vancouver.
The provincial government created the commission in May 2019 to study the extent of money laundering and its impact on multiple economic sectors. Those include gaming, horse racing, real estate, financial institutions and money service businesses, the corporate sector, luxury goods and regulated professionals—including those of lawyers and accountants.
The commission’s mandate is to review acts or omissions by people and agencies responsible for combating money laundering. The aim is to determine whether those acts or omissions contributed to the spread of money laundering and if so, whether corruption is involved.
“Money laundering is a particularly insidious crime. Its roots are in offences that victimize others – often people who are vulnerable. In its actual commission, however, money laundering is akin to the transmission of a serious contagious disease,” Commissioner Austin Cullen said in November.
The inquiry has a broad mandate but was largely fuelled by concerns dirty money from China poured into Vancouver real estate – sometimes through local casinos licensed by BCLC – causing immense price gains and record levels of sales (flipping) in only a short period of time.
Eby said Cullen would examine three issues: how the problem was allowed to grow; why was nothing done to stop it; and how can the commission do its work unfettered by the issues of potential prosecutions.
Eby said money laundering has had an impact on B.C.’s housing supply as residents compete against offshore investors and the ongoing opioid overdose crisis.
“The families and friends of the dead are grieving and more will joining them,” Eby said.
And, he said, if Cullen uncovers criminal wrongdoing or corruption, it will need to find a way to minimize the impacts of the commission’s findings on potential prosecutions.
“Prosecutions and arrests are simply not happening to the degree and scope of the problem,” Eby said. “This is a public inquiry into criminal activity.”
Part of that work, Eby said, is Cullen’s ability to examine cabinet documents.
He said the commission could go to court to obtain the cabinet records or de Jong could release them and avoid court proceedings.
“It is far too late to bargain and negotiate,” Eby said. He said without those records, the commission would not have a full record to do his work.
“They need to have the full record,” he said.