Thursday, November 04, 2004

More Money Laundering in Canada

Investigators report more money laundering in Canada by criminals, terrorists
47 minutes ago
SANDRA CORDON

OTTAWA (CP) - The amount of dirty money that global terrorists and other criminals tried to launder in Canada during the last year is dramatically higher than previously reported, a federal agency says.

Almost 200 cases involving $700 million in suspect financial transactions were turned over to police in the last fiscal year - a sizable jump over the $460 million tracked the year before, says Fintrac, the federal agency monitoring money laundering.

But that doesn't necessarily mean Canada is becoming a haven for international criminals cleaning the proceeds of their crimes, adds the head of the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre.

Rather, the fledgling agency is doing a better job of tracking money laundering, its director Horst Intscher said Thursday.

"I would tend to think we're getting better at discerning it, partly because we have more information sources and partly because we have more experience and we've sharpened our tools," said Intscher.

"There may be increases happening, but (more crime) is not the conclusion I'd draw."

Canada is no more of a target than other industrialized countries with financial systems that are hectic enough to hide criminals cleaning dirty money, he said.

The amount of terror financing tracked in 2003-04 jumped to about $70 million from $22 million the year before - a serious concern and a security threat, says the Fintrac report.

Terror financing accounted for 44 cases that Fintrac passed on to police. Another four cases involved both suspected money laundering and terrorist financing activity, Fintrac reported to Parliament.

Another 149 cases involved money laundering alone, about 60 per cent of those likely coming out of illegal hydroponic marijuana grow operations.

That seems to be a rapidly growing export industry and a thorn in the side of investigators.

"It's certainly becoming visibly prominent," although it's difficult to gauge just how fast the sector is growing because Fintrac only began full operations two years ago.

Since then, Fintrac has disclosed almost $2 billion in suspected money laundering and terrorism financing.

Meanwhile, as Fintrac reported on its search for terrorists and their funds, the country's privacy commissioner warned that personal freedoms are becoming a casualty of the fight against terrorism.

As law enforcement and national security agencies collect more information about more people, there are greater chances that travellers and others will be treated unfairly, Jennifer Stoddart said her annual report Thursday.

Fintrac was created by the federal government in 2000 to help uncover illegal financial activities.

But it took a couple more years for Ottawa to finalize reporting requirements that compel banks, brokerage firms, mutual funds, real estate agents and casinos to all disclose large transactions or deals involving more than $10,000 in cash.