Several Vancouver residents have been charged and millions of dollars seized after a three-year investigation into an underground banking system that allegedly cleaned the illicit cash of some of Canada’s largest criminal organizations.
Mike Tucker, of the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team, said the accused — four from Vancouver and three from Calgary — are part of a family that ran “pseudo banks in Vancouver and in Ontario.”
“It appears that they were pretty unique in offering this type of service so they ended up having a lot of different affiliations with major drug trafficking groups in Vancouver and in Ontario,” Tucker told Postmedia.
He would not identify any specific drug gangs, nor the address of the underground bank’s Vancouver location.
The alleged head of the money laundering network is Vancouver’s Van Duc Hoang, 64, who is charged with directing others to commit offences for the unnamed criminal organization as well as 11 other counts.
Hoang’s east Vancouver house and two other properties he owns here are among several restrained for potential forfeiture as part of the massive criminal investigation by ALERT and the RCMP’s federal serious and organized crime section.
Hoang’s housemate Van Thi Nguyen, 62, and Vancouver residents Donald Hoang, 26, and Grace Tang, 25, are also alleged to be part of the money laundering crime group, as are Calgary residents Cynthia Nguyen, 42, Yuong Nguyen, 43, and Lien Ha, 42.
Tucker said more than $16 million in bank accounts, real estate holdings, and vehicles have been placed under criminal restraint.
The case, dubbed Project Collector, is similar to the ill-fated E-Pirate investigation in B.C. — where charges were laid and later stayed — against Jian Jun Zhu and his wife for operating an underground bank called Silver International where drug gangs laundered hundreds of millions in illicit cash. Zhu was shot to death in Richmond in 2020.
The “Collector” accused were arrested in September. Search warrants were executed in Calgary, Vancouver and Metro Toronto.
“In a one-year period alone investigators identified the transfer of $24 million in cash, while the group’s money laundering activities date back to at least 2013,” Tucker said.
The probe began in July 2018 after $1 million in cash destined for Vancouver was intercepted in Calgary, he said. Investigators from ALERT and the RCMP then launched the extensive investigation relying heavily on intelligence from the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada.
No branch of the underground bank was actually discovered in Alberta.
“We think that there probably was some Alberta component, but it wasn’t revealed during the course of the investigation,” Tucker said.
“Vancouver is a port of entry and so it’s likely the money from Ontario was being used to pay suppliers in Vancouver.”
The alleged leader Hoang and his housemate Nguyen were pulled over by Vancouver Police on March 1, 2020 after officers “observed the vehicle driving unusually in the 900-block of Kingsway,” according to a civil forfeiture court case.
The VPD queried the 2016 Lexus with Alberta plates and determined it was owned by Nguyen’s daughter Cynthia, one of the accused in the current case. The lawsuit also said Cynthia Nguyen “had police database entries relating to drug trafficking and proceeds of crime.”
“The VPD observed a large re-usable shipping bag behind the driver’s seat. The top of the bag was covered with a plastic shopping bag to conceal its contents,” the government lawsuit said.
“Ms. Nguyen and Mr. Hoang denied knowledge or ownership of the bag” in which police later found more than $117,000 cash “bundled or packaged in a manner not consistent with standard banking practices.”
Police called Cynthia Nguyen, who also denied ownership of the bag or cash.
Neither Nguyen’s mother or Hoang contested the civil forfeiture case and the money was later turned over to the B.C. government.
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