B.C. college can't find evidence of student in drug cartel
A Vancouver college says it can't find any evidence that a lieutenant of a powerful Mexican drug cartel was enrolled in its classes as an elaborate cover.
But the revelation is shining a light on the potential role some colleges may have in laundering money if they accept cash from students – as well as calls to bring more transparency through a registry of real owners of Canadian corporations.
"I had two people in Saturday combing through our records. He was not a student in our college under that name ," said Columbia College principal Robin Hemmingsen, referring to a passage in "Hunting El Chapo," a book by former DEA agent Andrew Hogan.
Hogan tracked the Sinaloa Cartel's Vancouver operations, writing that former Sinaloa boss Joaqin "El Chapo" Guzman sent a 22-year-old to Vancouver to run his drug distribution network in Canada, which was more profitable than the American network.
"His key cartel lieutenants could exploit weaknesses in the Canadian system: the top-heavy structure of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police hampered law enforcement efforts for even the most routine drug arrest and prosecution," Hogan wrote.
The 22-year-old's front was to enroll in a business program at Columbia College, near his 30th floor condo loft.
"Hondo only attended a few classes, instead spending most of his time hanging out at clubs or taking girls sailing on the British Columbia coast," Hogan wrote.
The anecdote was quoted in the second part of money laundering investigator Peter German's report to the B.C. government, as well as a story of a student dropping off a bag of cash at a college.
"One college was faced with a student who was required to pay a charge of $150. The student attended with $9,000 in cash in a duffel bag and asked to deposit that amount minus the $150 owing," German wrote.
Columbia College says it doesn't accept cash from international students, and relies on a series of checks including the immigration system of the Canadian government to ensure its students' identity.
Hemmingsen said Columbia College was among several institutions reviewing whether they should accept cash at all.
"We will be reviewing our payment policies as I believe everyone is doing," she said.
The provincial government is weighing whether to announce a public inquiry and will announce its decision on Wednesday.
And the federal government, which controls how suspicious transactions are reported, is also under pressure to approve a publicly accessible registry of beneficial owners.
A report from the C.D. Howe Institute said a publicly accessible registry of who really owns property and corporations would help money laundering investigations in Canada and around the world.
"It's a matter of urgency in what we can do to stop money laundering now," said report author Kevin Comeau, who said current Canadian rules make it almost impossible to determine which transactions are suspicious.
"If we have a public registry, that changes everything," he said.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh grilled the Liberal Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime reduction about the idea of a public registry in the House of Commons.
"With Canadians struggling to buy a home, it turns out that money laundering has directly increased the cost of housing," he said. "Will the Liberals now commit to creating a registry for real owners, making sure a money laundering investigators actually does its work, and ensure there are meaningful penalties imposed on criminals who break the law?"
Bill Blair referred Singh to the 2019 federal budget, pointing to a money laundering institute created in the previous budget.
"These new regulations will provide greater transparency for federal organizations to determine beneficial ownership and have created a new offense of recklessness, which will facilitate investigations and successful prosecutions," Blair said.
New Westminster-Burnaby MP Peter Julian also asked the Liberal government why it hadn't enacted a beneficial registry.
"They refuse the necessary tools. Why is the government refusing to take these actions and who are they protecting now?"
Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier answered in French, saying British Columbians had received millions of dollars in the 2019 budget in order to support the housing market.
Vancouver City Councillor Christine Boyle, with the OneCity slate, said new surprises make it clear there is much more to know.
"I think all of these reports have made clear we need a broad and deep public inquiry with the ability to compel testimony. It's clear there's a problem and we don't know as much as we should about it," she said.
"People want to know who knew what and when and why this was allowed to go on for so long without being stopped," she said.