Posted on: December 1, 2020, 09:25h.
Last updated on: December 1, 2020, 10:44h.
Quebec’s finance minister has ordered a third-party investigation into possible money laundering at the province’s casinos.
The move comes days after domestic media reports alleged Mafia leaders had received VIP comps at the province-owned Casino de Montreal. These included tickets to shows, meals, and free hotel rooms.
According to Quebecois French-language news channel TVA, reputed Montreal mob boss Stefano Sollecito was listed among the top ten players at Casino de Montreal.
Sollecito is believed to have gambled $2.5 million at the casino in 2014 and 2015. At the time, he had recently been released from prison on racketeering and cocaine trafficking charges and declared around $50,000 in income tax.
Journal de Montreal accused the casino of rolling out the “tapis rouge” (red carpet) to at least four other gangsters from factions of the local Mafia or biker gangs.
Loto-Québec Tepid Response
Loto-Québec, the public corporation that owns the casino, said in an official statement that it takes “all the means at our disposal to avoid the presence of organized crime in the casinos.”
But it added the casino was a “public space” accessible to anyone over 18, and that it cannot “prevent individuals or groups of people from entering.” Any customer that wants to join the VIP scheme is free to do so, it said.
But Finance Minister Eric Girard said an independent audit will investigate potential money laundering and criminal activity. It will focus on the loyalty program to ensure it’s not rewarding those who receive cash from illegal activity.
BC Tip of the Iceberg?
Up to now, British Columbia has been the focus of Canada’s dirty money scandal. There, the Cullen Commission is trying to establish whether the previous provincial government and the BC Lottery Corp purposefully ignored a rampant casino money laundering problem to maximize gaming revenues for the province.
It is believed that organized crime with links to the fentanyl trade that has killed thousands of British Columbians was allowed to launder billions in drug money through the province’s casino and real-estate markets.
But a May 2019 report by the BC government’s Expert Panel on Money Laundering in BC Real Estate suggested BC could just be the tip of the iceberg. The panel concluded that $7 billion was laundered in BC in 2018 due to weak laws and inadequate oversight. But as much as $47 billion may have been washed through the entire country during the same period.
The panel called for a nationwide federal probe into the money laundering problem, a suggestion that was rebuffed by Bill Blair, Canada’s federal minister for organized crime reduction.
This, despite Canada’s abysmal success rate for money laundering prosecutions. According to Statistics Canada’s Integrated Criminal Court Survey, some 86 percent of all money laundering charges between 2012 and 2017 were thrown out before trial.