Rich Coleman, who was the minister overseeing gambling and casinos in B.C. off and on from 2001 to 2013, appeared before the Cullen Commission for his second and final session of testimony on Friday.
Coleman was the MLA for Fort Langley-Aldergrove or Langley East from 1996 to 2020, and during the years the Liberals controlled the B.C. Legislature from 2001 to 2017, he was the cabinet minister in charge of gaming multiple times, including from 2001 to 2005.
Coleman had previously told the commission last month that it was difficult to address money laundering at B.C. casinos directly because there were complex legal issues related to being able to prove suspicious cash at casinos was illegal money.
Much of the hour-long questioning period between Coleman and Brock Martland, a lawyer working for the Cullen Commission, focused on an interview he gave to CBC’s B.C. Almanac in January 2011 with Fort Langley’s Mark Forsyth.
After a $460,000 transaction at the River Rock Casino in Richmond occurred with $20 bills being exchanged for gambling chips, Inspector Barry Baxter with RCMP’s Integrated Proceeds of Crime section told CBC that suspicions ran high.
“We’re suspicious that it’s dirty money,” Baxter stated in an interview. “The common person would say this stinks. There’s no doubt about it.”
When questioned on B.C. Almanac, Coleman said he didn’t agree with him “and neither do all the superiors of his on the RCMP.”
“He’s offside with some of the messaging I got from the RCMP last week when I asked them the question and they’re having a look at the comments that he made within the policing because they don’t feel that it was correct,” Coleman said in the interview.
Martland asked whether Coleman himself contacted the RCMP, to which the former MLA responded that he had not.
“I should have used ‘we’ instead of ‘I’,” Coleman said, clarifying that he did not personally have that conversation, but instead had a chief of staff and contacts at the BC Lottery Corporation distill information for him.
Coleman said he was simply using the information to make a statement to the public through the program.
Coleman additionally explained that the comments from Baxter came “out of the blue,” particularly because the process of a review into casino money laundering had begun.
“The surprise of the comments made it difficult,” Coleman added, ultimately admitting that he felt he probably went a little too far out with his opinion on his answer of Baxter being “offside.”
When asked whether the interview downplayed the seriousness of money laundering issue at hand, Coleman felt he actually up-played it with his response to Baxter’s comments.
He summarized that particular experience as a frustrating interview and a frustrating week.
“How I phrased something ten years ago in a seven-minute interview, especially now looking back with hindsight, can’t be changed,” he said.
Coleman also spoke to the $460,000 casino transaction and why he had not believed it to be suspicious, explaining that he knew people who played in casinos with large cash transactions that are legitimate.
“This person was a known customer to the casino,” he noted.
Martland remarked that the person may not have been suspicious, but the cash could have been.
The Cullen Commission was formed in the wake of reports of huge amounts of illicit cash moving through B.C. casinos with few attempts to investigate the source of any of the funds.
An inquiry launched by the NDP outlined how illegal cash from organized crime was flowing through casinos, as well as the real estate and luxury car markets in Metro Vancouver.
The hearings are overseen by Commissioner Austin Cullen, a B.C. Supreme Court judge.
The commission was adjourned to July 6 when final statements will be made.
Cullen has until Dec. 15 to deliver his report, which will include recommendations.
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