Burdened by a litany of stories about whale gamblers from China laundering drug money at B.C. casinos, the provincial government’s gambling company hired a public relations firm for help.
Documents released under the freedom of information law to theBreaker.news show how B.C. Lottery Corporation executives grappled with a double-whammy by CTV’s W5 and Global News in early February.
Email reveals that embattled BCLC CEO Jim Lightbody and some of his subordinates continuously resorted to National Public Relations for advice because of national media reports about transnational organized crime infiltrating casinos under their watch.
“There is a potential media story developing,” Lightbody wrote Jan. 14 to communications director Laura Piva-Babcock and eGaming vice-president Monica Bohm, and copied to security vice-president Rob Kroeker.
“We have heard a rumour that [former BCLC anti-money laundering director] Ross Alderson is working with Kevin Newman at W5 to do a story on AML and BCLC. We should talk to National about how we might address this. Please keep confidential.”
More than two weeks later, on Jan. 30, Lightbody exchanged messages with former Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, who was installed on the BCLC board last November. Nearly all of what Moore wrote was censored because BCLC considered his words to be advice or recommendations.
Replied Lightbody: “Greg, Yes it’s very frustrating. It’s like a feeding frenzy.”
As the W5 episode approached, tension grew in the BCLC executive office.
“This is brutal,” Lightbody wrote to Bohm, after a Feb. 5 Tweet from outspoken new Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West, who was interviewed for the W5 feature called “The Laundromat.”
On the same day, Lightbody asked Piva-Babcock: “Did they ever contact us?”
Piva-Babcock replied: “No they didn’t. We are reaching out to government, because Eby is featured, to get some info. We are concerned [Global reporter Sam] Cooper is now racing to beat W5 with the story. We are working with National. Would be good to connect with you later today.”
Moore emailed Lightbody and copied BCLC territory manager Peter Kupiak on Feb. 6, but that was also redacted for the same advice and recommendations exception.
Kroeker’s email that morning to the executive team described it as “another hectic day shaping up.” He included an outline of obligations to employees named by a former employee in interviews with Global.
“Even if there is no legal obligation to them, what options are available in regards to reports that are based on mischaracterization, innuendo or assertions not supported by fact and that could be unfair and damaging to them,” wrote Kroeker, who was forced to resign as Justice Institute chair last October after CTV’s story about his past as the security vice-president of River Rock Casino Resort.
So rushed were BCLC executives, that Bohm’s Feb. 6 Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Media Relations & Strategy briefing note for the board headline read “Briefing BDocument (sic).”
The Global Feb. 7 story, titled “BCLC could have stopped this: Former casino investigators question whether officials willing to stop criminal activity,” prompted a Feb. 8 briefing note by Piva-Babcock denying the casino industry was complicit.
BCLC executives also circulated among themselves a Sept. 8, 2015 corporate security and compliance memo by Alderson that refers to the investigation into the Silver International underground bank and transnational organized crime using B.C. casinos to launder money. A redacted version of that memo was released to theBreaker.news.
“BCLC needs to get ahead of any potential media and public backlash,” wrote Alderson, who left BCLC in late 2017. “BCLC have been driving AML initiatives for several years and this is well documented. However we could and should be doing more. That will no doubt impact revenue, and could have a significant impact on revenue. However we must get ahead of anything that may detrimentally impact the casino industry. It is also the right thing to do.”
The memo details meetings between Alderson and officers from the RCMP and Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch. It includes a footnote link to a story on anti-money laundering lawyer Christine Duhaime’s website headlined “Structuring: How Moving Funds from China to Vancouver Often Mirrors How Colombian Drug Lords Move their Money.”
In late 2017, Australian professor John Langdale gave it a name: the “Vancouver model.”
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