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Cosmetics company allegedly connected to casino money laundering scheme, police say
There's something important in the briefcase. So important a mysterious figure clad in black leather and a motorcycle helmet battles a series of attackers who seem like they would kill for it.
The figure dispatches six men, and then rides the motorcycle to a gated mansion. The helmet comes off to reveal a woman’s face.
She opens the briefcase -- and it contains cosmetics by a Vancouver company called Ritzy Product.
“Life can be hard on a woman’s skin,” intones a female voice in the video advertisement on Ritzy's website. “Allow us to treat it a bit softer.”
But authorities are alleging in court documents that Ritzy Product Co. Ltd. was likely involved in more than just stem cell oil and anti-aging cream.
In an investigation code-named “Project Trunkline," Vancouver police officers were investigating drug trafficking and money laundering, according to records in a civil forfeiture case.
As part of that investigation, officers shadowed people “exchanging various bags and boxes at a company owned by Mr. Wong” at Ritzy Product’s south Vancouver warehouse.
That’s where they saw Ritzy’s director, Maxim or Nelson Wong, pick up some of those deliveries, the records indicate.
The documents indicate when police pulled Wong over, they found about $215,000 in cash in a box in his truck. A search of the Ritzy Product warehouse found $5,000 in cash, some of which the police claim tested positive for cocaine residue.
Surveillance records show Wong travelling with some of those bags to the Richmond office of Silver International – the subject of an RCMP investigation into money laundering at the same time.
Silver International has been accused in court of being a money laundering hub that according to RCMP, supplied gamblers at B.C. casinos with bags of cash. Video of the execution of a search warrant at the company’s offices was obtained by CTV’s W5.
According to police, “Mr. Wong was identified as a customer of Silver International and documented in ledgers seized from Silver International using the coded names ‘nelson’ or ‘nel’. From June 1 to Oct. 15, 2015, transactions linked to Mr. Wong totalled” about $3.8 million in deposits and about $20,000 in withdrawals.
Ritzy Product’s south Vancouver warehouses, a Chevrolet Silverado and a Corvette Stingray, as well as the cash, are “derived directly or indirectly from unlawful activity, including the trafficking of controlled substances" and "the laundering of proceeds of crime...,” the Director of Civil Forfeiture claims in a court filing seeking to retain these items.
Wong’s lawyer told CTV News, “Mr. Wong has not been charged with a crime as a result of the police investigation, despite extensive police surveillance. There is no connection between the business Ritzy Product Co. Ltd and Silver International.”
B.C.’s Attorney General has sounded the alarm about concerns about B.C.’s casinos being used to launder money, with video showing bags of cash traded in for chips at B.C.’s River Rock Casino – sometimes up to half a million dollars at a time.
A report commissioned by the B.C. government said in one month, in July 2015, the cash buy-ins at the River Rock Casino topped $13.5 million in $20 bills.
Vancouver City Councillor Christine Boyle says there are just too many questions.
“I found it pretty shocking,” she said after viewing the commercial. “It’s not the story that Vancouverites want told about their city… I’ve been joining the call for a provincial public inquiry to get to the depth of this and bring light to it."
CTV News asked B.C.’s premier if seeing bags of cash being unloaded in surveillance video obtained by W5 from inside Silver International was cause enough to call a public inquiry.
John Horgan said the province has already started to investigate using the German report, which established that casinos were unwitting laundromats for organized crime, and he is working on followup reports on luxury cars, horse racing and real estate.
“Clearly, there is a problem. We had hoped that the federal government would be successful with the prosecution. We want to see, and I think British Columbians want to see, consequences from money laundering. They haven’t seen that yet,” he said.