Soft-spoken investigator sounds loud alarm over dirty money

Peter German is a deceptive package.

Soft-speaking, plain-talking, self-deprecating. A listener more than a talker. A laugh-out-louder. Gentle, genial demeanour.

Exactly, precisely the opposite of the stereotype of one who would defang the money launderers contaminating our casinos to decamp drug profits or ill-gotten gains. Exactly, precisely why he is so effective.

His recent quarter-thousand-page report for the British Columbia government, Dirty Money, is a primer on our vulnerability writ large to foul-found currency distorting our economy.

It serves as a sad diagnosis, no matter its hopeful prescription: typically, bundles of twenties hauled in from a drug deal finding a gambling table – or, for that matter, any place where cash is king – to serve as a B.C. laundromat.

An acquiescent outlet or salesperson. An inadequate tracking of the high dough. A persistent disconnection among regulators. Poof! Probably $100 million, possibly much more, reinvests in the drug trade, inflates the real estate market, and infects the businesses of horse racing, luxury cars and boats.

German, the former deputy commissioner of the RCMP and former deputy commissioner of Corrections Services Canada, with a doctorate in law under his belt, is now engaged with a next-chapter sense of duty in the task of helping authorities mitigate the impact of bad money in good places.

He is clear on boundaries: “I am not political.” His report thus does not place blame, pick partisan fights or veer into ideological, racial or emotional territory to earn points. He could have, but didn’t, and it gives us an opportunity to get on with the business of fighting the scourge.

Dirty Money is bloodless in its discussion of the methods of the menace in our midst. I’ve read it twice, found it more maddening the second time than the first, and I’ve come away wondering why well-meaning officials couldn’t get their stuff together for years and years.

His report arrived in March on the desk of Attorney General David Eby, and if German can grant some political credit far short of taking out party membership, it is that he believes the minister is as serious-minded as he is in pursuing the villains and the systems that abide them.

“I’ve been impressed,” he said in conversation.

And so far, Eby has pressed Ottawa and pushed Victoria forward at his behest.

When he sat for a lengthy interview last week for our regular Business in Vancouver Interview podcast, German was a scholar on his methods and a teacher on his knowledge. Over the course of several weeks, he crashed the boards to interview 160 people, review the available files, and conclude that B.C. has failed far too often to keep the villains at bay.

His two prime ideas, among the four-dozen he proposes, are a new police force dedicated to the casino hotbeds and a new regulator dedicated to wrangling the multiple players who can’t quite coordinate. He likes what’s happened in Ontario, where reforms have been effective, and in Nevada, where the brazen hockey bags of cash would never have made their way into a casino.

If as an investigator he did not write his report to find fault, well, it is fairly easy as a consumer of said report to do so.

What was once “problem gambling” under the earlier government then became “responsible gambling” with all the trappings of a goose laying the golden egg. What was evident was the gradual dependence provincially on these funds – now roughly $1 billion annually – and the susceptibility of the system to fraud. Various government initiatives failed to stem the tide.

As German is quick to point out, “This is not an Asian issue.” This is a much broader, pernicious, Whac-a-Mole, cat-and-mouse game of vast origin. The criminals are no dummies, and if German’s decades in the field have not led him to respect white-collar fraudsters, he is certainly cognizant of their sophistication with financial numbers and systems and human needs and behaviours.

What we must hope is that in German’s assessment and argument for change, they have started to meet their match. He has promised he will be watching.•

Kirk LaPointe is vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media