Former public safety minister Rich Coleman says he looks forward to testifying at a public inquiry into money laundering, after being accused by the NDP government of taking early steps that led to the growth of criminal activity in B.C.
“I’m quite happy with the inquiry,” Coleman told reporters at the B.C. legislature Wednesday. “We’ll finally get past some of this innuendo and accusation and get down to some facts.”
Premier John Horgan announced earlier in the day that B.C. Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen has accepted the job of heading an inquiry into money laundering, estimated by the B.C. government’s outside investigators to have reached more than $7 billion in 2018 alone.
Coleman noted that as B.C.’s solicitor general starting in 2001, he brought in a new Gaming Control Act after two premiers, Mike Harcourt and Glen Clark, resigned over issues related to gambling.
“I created the act so it was always arms length from the minister for statutory decision-makers, so no minister could ever influence a decision that was made,” Coleman said.
Coleman was minister in charge of the B.C. Lottery Corporation in 2009 when a dedicated illegal gambling enforcement team was disbanded. A new dedicated team was set up in 2016 as large casinos were operating in Metro Vancouver.
Taking questions after Wednesday’s announcement, Horgan repeated the suggestion that government revenues from gambling and taxes on a soaring real estate market may have been a motivation to keep the good times rolling in B.C.
“Perhaps other governments were intoxicated by the revenues that kept coming in,” Horgan said.
B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver said he is pleased about the NDP government’s decision to proceed with a public inquiry. He cited damning evidence from investigator Peter German and a panel led by law professor Maureen Maloney about multiple luxury home purchases by the same people. The investigations also uncovered a brisk trade in expensive cars that were bought with cash or untraced bank transfers, and then sold offshore.
“The key aspect of all of this is that the German report and the expert panel report were able to outline a series of very alarming issues with respect to money laundering,” Weaver said. “But they did so without access to the power of subpoena, they did so without access to cabinet documents that were confidential, they did so without access to other private information.”
The NDP government has twice asked the B.C. Liberals to waive confidentiality over cabinet documents related to their actions as money laundering was growing during their 16 years as government.
B.C. Liberal justice critic Michael Lee said the decision to seek those records is up to the judge in charge of the inquiry, which has been asked to gather its evidence and provide a final report by May 2021.