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Ex-minister says comments accusing officials of ignoring money laundering were meant to stay private

A former B.C. cabinet minister who once said his colleague was complicit in the province’s failure to address the issue of money laundering has testified his comments were “personal opinions” he made while unaware his old friend was recording their conversation.

Kash Heed, a former police chief who briefly served as solicitor general, said he made the disparaging remarks about ex-gaming minister Rich Coleman in 2018 thinking he and his friend were just catching up and “shooting the breeze.”

“They are not based on any first-hand knowledge or experience from my time in policing or in government. This is many years later … where in fact I’m a private citizen sharing something with … a friend, not knowing he had ulterior motives to tape what we were actually talking about,” said Heed.

Heed was the latest in a string of former B.C. cabinet ministers to testify in recent days at the Cullen inquiry. The commission is trying to determine where and how money laundering has been happening in B.C., why it’s been allowed to continue and whether it can be prevented in the future. 

Heed’s testimony focused largely on phone calls and meetings with his old friend, Fred Pinnock, a former RCMP officer who once led the since-disbanded Integrated Illegal Gaming Enforcement Team.

Early lunch meeting

Heed and Pinnock had been friends since the early ’80s, when Heed worked with Vancouver police and Pinnock was with RCMP.

Pinnock testified in November he met with Heed at the Delta Grand Hotel in Victoria in 2009 — shortly after Heed moved to politics and was appointed solicitor general — to raise concerns about large amounts of suspicious cash in B.C. casinos. 

Pinnock said Heed confirmed his belief police failed to act on money laundering, telling him it was “all about the money” and naming Coleman as “largely responsible … along with senior Mounties who were complicit.”

He said Heed described senior RCMP as being “puppets for Coleman.”

surveillance video shows bundles of 20 bills dumped at a b c casino
The B.C. government released photos in 2018 showing the till of a casino cash cage, where roughly $250,000 in suspected dirty money was converted into chips. (B.C. Ministry of Attorney General)

In his own testimony Wednesday, Heed said he remembered the lunch but denied making the comments about Coleman.

“The majority of time was all based on friends, catching up, where’ve you been, what’s going on in your life,” said Heed.

Recordings in 2018

Pinnock did not record the 2009 meeting, but said he did tape three subsequent conversations with Heed in 2018 in an effort to prove Heed and Coleman knew about money laundering.

According to a transcript, Heed told Pinnock during a phone call he thought the RCMP and Coleman made up a corrupt “network” which was ultimately responsible for a “tsunami” of money laundering in casinos.

“It’s ridiculous what’s going on with these guys here. It’s just — they’re the most unethical group of people you can imagine,” Heed was recorded saying during the phone call on July 10, 2018.

Heed said Wednesday it was “morally repulsive” he was secretly recorded. He said his comments were based on “rumours” and media reports he’d seen in the years since leaving the solicitor general’s office.

He said there was a “strict” difference between what he said during lunch in 2009 and over the phone in 2018.

“Those are personal opinions well after the fact,” he said.

Heed resigned from cabinet twice in 2010 over a complicated political scandal which involved an unregistered campaign flyer and the revelation the special prosecutor investigating that brochure had previously donated to Heed’s 2009 campaign.

lng press conference 20170215
Rich Coleman, the former minister responsible for gaming, speaks to media on Feb. 15, 2017 in Victoria, B.C. The Cullen Commision has heard one of Coleman’s fellow MLAs in 2009 said Coleman was more concerned with revenue from casinos in B.C.’s Lower Mainland than he was with fighting organized crime. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Pinnock told the inquiry he was so concerned about what he observed in his role at the RCMP that he took early retirement in 2008 after 29 years with the force. He later began speaking out publicly about money laundering.

The RCMP’s Integrated Illegal Gaming Enforcement Team (IIGET) was disbanded in 2009.

A report in 2018 said a “collective systemic failure” cleared the way for unwitting casinos to become “laundromats” for proceeds of crime. The in-depth review said more than $100 million has likely been cleaned in B.C. over the last decade and a half.

Coleman, who left politics last year, has said he never put gaming profits ahead of fighting crime at casinos. He testified Wednesday allegations to the contrary were “ridiculous.”

The NDP government called the Cullen inquiry after a series of reports outlined how the province’s real estate, luxury vehicle and gaming sectors were being used to launder dirty money.

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