Police seize $100,000 in drug-covered cash from Richmond casino

Seizure carried out at halfway point of judicial inquiry into money laundering

The River Rock Casino and Resort | Richmond News files

Richmond RCMP seized $100,000 cash covered in drug residue from a man hoping to swap it for gaming chips at River Rock Casino and Resort on February 20, according to allegations by the Director of Civil Forfeiture.

The man named Fan Zhang, who has a last known address in Burnaby, and three associates showed up to the Richmond casino with a grey bag containing $20 and $50 bills, “bundled or packaged in a manner not consistent with standard banking practices,” according to the director.

According to the civil claim, “Mr. Zhang and his associates were unable to provide documentation regarding the source of the Money to the River Rock.

“The Richmond RCMP attended at the River Rock and seized the Money.

“Subsequent to the seizure of the Money, a Police Service Dog indicated ‘positive’ for controlled substance residue on the Money.”

The director is claiming the cash is “proceeds and an instrument of unlawful activity.”

Those activities, according to the claim, include trafficking controlled substances, selling illicit cannabis, laundering proceeds of crime, agreements of criminal rates of interest and failure to declare taxable income.

Zhang either obtained the cash by participating in those activities or alternatively, he knew or ought to have known the money was proceeds of crime; or he was willfully blind, the claim states.

The burden of proof in civil forfeiture cases is less than criminal ones. Zhang has yet to file a response to the director’s claim, which has not been tested in court.

Zhang is known to have last resided at 6345 Grant Street, presently valued at $1.65 million and owned by Hai Li, a housewife. However, Zhang is the covenantor of the $1.3 million mortgage from October 2014.

The case comes at about the halfway point of the two-year Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering, which was ordered by the BC NDP government after media began reporting on problem and suspicious gambling at B.C. casinos, including the River Rock. At the same time, from January 2015 to May 2018, Vancouver’s real benchmark residential composite prices rose over 70%, from $641,000 to nearly $1.1 million. In that same time, illicit drug overdoses have nearly tripled, peaking at 1,546 deaths in 2018.

The “Vancouver Model” is now a well-known money laundering scheme, whereby drugs move from Latin America and China while specific money laundering operations are set up in Metro Vancouver, and particularly Richmond, to handle the illicit cash, which may end up being used in casinos or to purchase luxury cars and homes.

In one month (July 2015), River Rock accepted $13.5 million in $20 bills alone, according to a government report.

The inquiry will focus on identifying specific problems and solutions to money laundering.

The BC NDP has already established a registry of beneficial ownership of property and is consulting stakeholders for a likewise registry for businesses. The registries, which the inquiry is exploring, could be a valuable tool to expose links between criminals and their associates.

gwood@glaciermedia.ca