Thursday, May 23, 2013

‘You can’t profit from criminal activity’: Bid to buy alleged Rob Ford crack video could end in cash seizure

The so-called “Crackstarter” crowd-funding campaign raising money to buy the video allegedly showing Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine is nearing its $200,000 goal, but the U.S. website will almost certainly face scrutiny when making the purchase from men involved in the city’s drug trade.
The campaign on Indiegogo launched by New York-based gossip site Gawker had raised more than $120,000 by Wednesday evening, with five days remaining for contributions.
John Cook, a Gawker editor who broke the story about the video, has said men involved in the city’s drug trade will turn it over for $200,000.
Mr. Ford has called the allegations “ridiculous,” but has refused any further comment.
There are going to be some red flags
However, even if the campaign does raise enough to meet the hefty price tag, an electronic transaction that large between Canada and the United States will likely get flagged to both countries’ financial regulatory bodies, said Christine Duhaime, a B.C. lawyer with a specialized anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing practice.
Electronic cross-border transactions over $10,000 must be declared, she said.
“Anyone is going to be concerned at any regulatory agency and any police force is going to be concerned with a company coming out and saying they’re raising money to buy something from a drug dealer.… There are going to be some red flags. I don’t really know how much this is going to be monitored, other than the fact that somebody is going to monitor the payment from Gawker fairly closely, because people have come out and said it is drug dealers [involved].”
The purchase of the video itself isn’t illegal, but if the recipient — the details of which must be known for wire transfers and other electronic transactions — is a known criminal and shows up on a list of suspects or suspicious individuals, it will be reported to FINTRAC in Canada or FINCEN in the U.S., she said.
“Assuming it’s a legitimate video and it’s legally taken, that’s not a problem,” she said. “Except that it’s going to a known drug dealer. Paying to a known drug dealer for a legitimate sale is problematic in and of itself, because the vendor [is] of questionable character and there are questionable activities.”
Gawker and two reporters from the Toronto Star have said they have seen the video in question, but the National Post has not viewed the footage and cannot verify its authenticity.
But Garry Clement, the chief of anti-money laundering consultancy Clement Advisory Group and the former director of the RCMP’s proceeds of crime program, says if the person who recorded the video also provided the alleged drugs and then sold the footage for profit, then both the payment and the video could be seized.
“You can’t profit from criminal activity. … [U.S. authorities] would be in a good position to go in for forfeiture of the money,” he said.
If the person who filmed the alleged footage just happened to be at the party, these laws likely don’t apply, Mr. Clement added.
However, these particular risks lay with the seller of the video and the recipient of the cash, not Gawker, he said.
Still, a transaction over $10,000 — whether from bank to bank, or wire transfer — will catch the attention of the authorities.
Under the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act, records must be kept for transactions over that threshold, said FINTRAC spokesman Peter Lamey.
The law over 10 years has tried to remove the anonymity and clandestine transactions and the ability to conduct them
“The law over 10 years has tried to remove the anonymity and clandestine transactions and the ability to conduct them,” he said. “So, if you’re carrying out transfers and transactions, there’s a paper trail at the financial institutions. If you’re moving across the border, that generates a paper trail as well.”
The transaction, if flagged, would still go through but the organization would look at it closely after the fact, he said.
“If someone is involved in criminal activity and has suspicious transactions already associated with them, or ongoing investigations… That would be a good starting point for looking at transactions in terms of looking at transactions of interest to police.”
That is, assuming that the exchange is made electronically.
It is possible that the money could be brought across the border in cash or pre-loaded VISA cards in sums below the $10,000 threshold.
This activity, called “structuring” of a transaction, isn’t illegal but is a signal of other criminal activities.
“Structuring is considered a money-laundering technique, it’s not a criminal activity. But it’s an indicator to a bank or a casino or a credit union that you’re dealing with something that may be linked to money laundering.”
National Post
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