Citizens are bringing money in reusable shopping bags and bags to the city to pay taxes, according to reports by two councilors, including one who says he saw it happen "a few times" last year.
NPA Coun. Melissa De Genova and the Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr appeared in a debate on Tuesday before the council unanimously approved a long motion from De Genova for City Hall officials to work with the police and government to prevent and deter money laundering in local businesses and in transactions in town hall.
"I saw firsthand this," De Genova said in the council chamber. "We may have stories from this second hand, but I've seen it a few times and that worries me."
De Genova added: "I'm not saying that all the money that comes to the city of Vancouver is washed, it is the product of the crime. However, I think we can definitely prevent and prevent this, or limit that, at least, with some types of checks and balances. "
Carr said on camera that she did not personally see people bring suitcases of money to the city hall, "but I have people who tell me they saw people bringing suitcases of money to the city hall to pay their taxes on the property."
Added Carr: "So when you get reports like this … we should be checking this out."
Courier interviewed the two advisors on Wednesday about the incidents.
Last July, said De Genova, she saw a man in the main hall of the town hall carrying a black bag with money. The man asked her where he could pay "taxes".
"[The money] It was piled in the bag, and it was very obvious – I could see it inside the bag, "she said. "I do not know if they knew I was a city councilor."
A few months earlier, she said, she saw another man in the same spot with a bag of money.
"They had a reusable bag – one you'd see in a grocery store – and it was full of money," De Genova said. "They were not trying to hide everything. I was very impressed to see this alone.
It was not clear to De Genova at the time whether the two men were in the lobby to pay property taxes, the tax on empty houses or do some other transaction related to a commercial license or municipal fee.
Under the tax on empty houses, the city collects 1% of the assessed taxable value of a property if the property becomes vacant. The city estimated that it will receive $ 38 million in revenue for the first year of the tax.
Carr said he has received reports from the last two months of two citizens on two occasions about people bringing suitcases to the city hall to pay property taxes. When asked how citizens knew that the bags contained money and that money was being used to pay property taxes, Carr said:
"These are anecdotal reports – this is not a formal thing that someone told me in writing, but they said they saw people bringing a suitcase of money to the city hall and taking out money to pay the property tax. That's what was passed on to me.
Melanie Kerr, the city's director of financial services, said in an e-mail that "there was definitely no one bringing money to the city in a suitcase." Courier continued to ask about the shopping bags, but did not receive a response before this story was published. posted.
Although some Metro Vancouver counties do not accept cash payments in their prefectures, Vancouver still allows for transactions. Municipalities are not required to report any suspicious activity to the Financial Transaction Analysis and Reporting Center, which is Canada's financial intelligence unit. FINTRAC's mandate is to detect, prevent and prevent money laundering and terrorist financing.
Last year, the city's revenue department collected more than $ 2 billion for services such as parking permits, court fines, commercial licenses, municipal taxes and taxes levied on behalf of other authorities. Of the $ 2 billion, about $ 13 million was made in cash payments.
"For several years, we have encouraged residents to use simplified payment methods, including online or bank payment, and in the future we are exploring the reduction or elimination of cash as a form of payment to manage risk and increase efficiency. Kerr said.
Sgt. Jason Robillard, a police officer with police in Vancouver, said in an e-mail that "there are no reports of suspicious payments in the city hall over the past five years, including reports of someone trying to pay cash with a bad ".
De Genova acknowledged that property tax bills do not necessarily require the property owner to bring money into a bag or bag, but said that empty house tax payments and an annual $ 30,000 permit for a marijuana dispensary may be expensive.
"Considering the taxation of empty houses being relatively new and these cannabis retail licenses of $ 30,000 – is a bit different than people paying twice a year in the city in cash for their property tax," she said, noting that some dispensary owners Do not have bank accounts and pay cash.
In recent years, several media reports and police and government reports have tied up real estate, casinos, and drug trafficking to money laundering. The B.C. government-commissioned "Dirty Money" report suggested that more than $ 100 million was laundered in the province. Recent police reports have estimated the total dollar value of more than $ 1 billion in Canada.
The De Genova motion calls for city officials to take on a number of tasks to prevent and deter money laundering, including:
- The team should work directly with the Vancouver Police Department, the Office of the Attorney General and the provincial government to identify a system in which the City of Vancouver can share relevant information with the relevant authorities related to money laundering.
- Ask the team to review the powers available in the Vancouver Charter to require "rigorous financial reporting" from companies, individuals, corporations and companies by paying specific taxes, licenses, and any kind of business or property-related fee "that is most likely to attract money laundering and / or organized crime. "
- Ask the team to review and take immediate action, considering the security protocols and processes involved in cash payments, and authorize the team to take the necessary security measures in the interest of public safety.
- Ask the staff to work with the Vancouver Police Department to review the process and payment methods accepted by the city of Vancouver.