The Canadian city of Vancouver has one of the hottest real estate markets in the world. Is Organized Crime To Blame?
The bustling city on the west coast of Canada was known for its stunning views of the mountains and the Pacific Ocean, its lush and ancient forests and its historic downtown skyscrapers.
No wonder the real estate market is white hot, with everyone in nature lovers to business leaders looking to have a western home base close to Asian markets that want to get into the fight.
But new reports suggest that Vancouver's real estate is also attractive as a laundromat for some of the world's most notorious criminals.
A panel of experts estimated that C $ 5.3bn ($ 4bn, £ 3bn) is London by real estate in the British Columbia province, with most of it being funded by Vancouver, its largest and most expensive city.
This represents about 5% of real estate transactions, and the panel estimates of frequently overestimated purchases have the effect of raising the overall price by 5%.
In short, organized criminals found the flames on Vancouver's already smoking-hot real estate market, making the city even more unaffordable for its residents.
The panel, commissioned by the British Columbia government, believes the province – especially the city of Vancouver – is a hotbed for money laundering in Canada.
Using Economic Analysis and Modeling, the panel estimated that all industries, about C $ 46.7bn, were laundered across the country in 2018.
About C $ 7.4bn is London in British Columbia, with real property taking the biggest piece of the pie.
To put it in perspective, British Columbia accounts for about 13% or Canada's overall GDP, but about 17% or total laundered funds.
The panel warns that their analysis is likely to bounce low.
In a complimentary paper, the former RCP Deputy Commissioner Peter German hypothesized that Canada and Vancouver in particular became attractive to internationally organized crime for a number of reasons.
Canada is attractive because the country's justice system makes it difficult to raise money, German believes. It has some of the most neglected financial reporting rules in the developed world, and little police and prosecutorial resources are devoted to white collar crime.
Even if caught, Canada is a rule of law that believes in the right process and rehabilitation. A criminal trial in Canada will be treated much better than they would in the People's Republic of China, for example.
Vancouver is particularly attractive because it is a multicultural city with some ethnic communities, which makes doing business much easier.
German notes that Santalo Cartel El Chapoo, mainland Chinese gang Big Circle Boys, and Iranian gangs with footholds in both Dubai and Persian Diaspora in North America all have deep ties in the city of Vancouver.
- Canada is targeting its overheated housing market
In the end, while real-world real estate prices have remained relatively stable throughout Canada, the Vancouver real estate market has skyrocketed over the last decade. In mid-2016, prices increased 30% annually.
This led to the German describing as a "gold rush," with many investors scrambling to get into the marketplace, flip properties and murder. That garbage was a lot of money exchanging hands, and a lot of transactions, making it even harder for the authority to place shady deals and suspicious dealers.
How did they do this?
Catching money-launderers in this act was incredibly difficult, according to a report written by retired lawyer Kevin Camo, and published by a Canadian Thinking Tank, the Si Hove Institute.
They often rely on a hoax of lawyers, shell corporations, and intermediaries to be the "face" of their illegal transactions.
In the real estate industry, this resource criminal organization could invest in a development property, paying construction bills in cash, or even borrowing a mortgage through a debt corporation.
Others buy rental properties, especially low-income, cash-based cinnamon houses, and over-declare their rental profits to the government.
Often, they have a relative or even a stranger buying the property, when they are the financial beneficiary. The various schemes are difficult to trace on their own. When combined, they form what Comeau called the "money laundering rabbit hole".
Different international jurisdictions complicate the matter, he says, as does the fact that the first alleged crime may have occurred in another country.
Even if a law enforcement official pin down the source of one shell company, the organization can easily lose more trust, in more jurisdictions, through more intermediaries.
"You have to work your way back, and this is almost an impossible task to do," he told the BBC.
Who does it hurt?
It is incredible to think that white-collar crime is Corronless, Kiddo says.
"People really think it's money laundering It's got nothing to do with me," he says.
"Money laundering … is pressing real estate from the market for a whole generation of Canadians. Millenians are getting killed."
Real estate is not like casinos or luxury cars – two other industries in Germany are identified as being rife for money laundering scams. With only so much available land to develop and a growing population always in need of new homes, real estate fluctuations in the real estate market not only affect the economy as a whole, but people's everyday lives.
The panel of experts estimated that money laundering in the real estate market inflated the price of real estate by about 5%, adding to the affordable housing crisis in the province.
From an international perspective, money laundering in Canada through international cartels like the Sinoala contributes to violence around the world. He estimated that for every aid dollar sent abroad, Canada gets 10 back to wash.
"We are complicated in all these crimes … drug trafficking, man traffic, corruption – we are part of that, because of our bad laws," Kidow says.
How do you keep it?
Although Canada's formal banking industry has strong beneficiary reporting obligations, many industries – including real estate – don't.
Kiddau, Germany and many others are called Canada to create a state registry of beneficial ownership, so the person who benefits from the purchase or sale of real estate cannot hide behind trust or company.
The UK created a regular registry in 2016, but struggled to extend overseas territory rules to Cayman Islands.
The panel of experts commissioned by the BC Government also called for better information sharing among law enforcement agencies, and more regulation among real estate professionals as mortgage brokers.
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The calls to action made waves. The BC Government introduced a new law that would create a regular realistic registry.
Failure to follow could lead to a $ 100,000 fine, or 15% of the property's value, which is greater. Kiddau believes there should also be his prison time.
If it is impossible to trace the source of the money in the rabbit hole, he argues we must make it illegal to reduce their source to begin with.
But Ottawa has yet to say whether they would take the step of creating a national registry. In the absence of one, money laundering activity in Vancouver may simply go to a more favorable jurisdiction.