Former B.C. gaming minister agrees he was 'unfair' to Mountie who raised alarm on money laundering

·4 min read
Then-minister Rich Coleman speaks to media in Victoria on Feb. 15, 2017. Coleman told the Cullen inquiry into money laundering in B.C. on April 23 he never turned a blind eye to the problem during his decades in cabinet. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Then-minister Rich Coleman speaks to media in Victoria on Feb. 15, 2017. Coleman told the Cullen inquiry into money laundering in B.C. on April 23 he never turned a blind eye to the problem during his decades in cabinet. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press - image credit)

A formal inquiry into money laundering in British Columbia heard from its final witness Friday as a former gaming minister appeared for a second time to explain inconsistencies during his first round of testimony.

Rich Coleman, a six-term former Liberal member of the B.C. Legislature, appeared again before Cullen Commission over discrepancies between comments he made in 2011 and testimony before the inquiry last month.

Questioned for more than an hour Friday, Coleman maintained his sworn evidence was accurate.

"I think how I answered the question in my [earlier] testimony was honest and correct," said the former minister, who was responsible for the gaming file off and on from 2001 to 2013.

In April, lawyers for the commission asked Coleman about a CBC News investigation in 2011 that detailed how $8 million in suspected drug money flowed unchecked through two casinos in three months. In the article, RCMP Insp. Barry Baxter said the force suspected casinos were being targeted by organized crime and believed the cash was "dirty money."

In a follow-up interview six days after the investigation ran, Coleman undermined the accuracy of the reporting and described Baxter as "offside." Coleman said he'd spoken to Baxter's superiors, who agreed.

But in April, he denied speaking to RCMP's brass. He was recalled to testify again shortly thereafter.

On Friday, Coleman said it was his staff, not him personally, who had spoken to RCMP brass.

"Sometimes in a live radio interview, you tend use a word versus another when you're trying to do it as a minister on behalf of your entire [staff] ... I should've used 'we' and not 'I,' " he said, adding Baxter's RCMP superiors never officially told him they disagreed with their officer.

"It was just my feeling that his superiors wouldn't agree with what he said or how he said it," Coleman said.

Surveillance footage of alleged money laundering. Attorney General David Eby said the tape shows wads of $20 bills being exchanged in a casino cash cage.
Surveillance footage of alleged money laundering. Attorney General David Eby said the tape shows wads of $20 bills being exchanged in a casino cash cage.(Supplied)

The Cullen commission is trying to determine where and how money laundering has occurred in B.C., why it's been allowed to continue and whether it can be prevented in the future.

Since last spring, the commission has heard testimony from about 200 witnesses, including former B.C. premier Christy Clark, several former and current cabinet ministers, police officers, gaming officials and financial crime experts and academics.

The former minister testified Baxter's suspicions "came out of the blue." He also testified it was not general practice for RCMP officers to speak publicly about issues that could be under investigation and Baxter's comments didn't jive with information Coleman had received from his officials.

Documents later showed Insp. Baxter had the full support of his superiors.

Commission lawyer Brock Martland questioned Coleman Friday about whether he agreed he'd discredited Baxter. Coleman said he'd "probably spoken too far," but stopped short of apologizing.

"I probably went a little too far out with that answer ... Yeah, I mean, [I was] a bit unfair to Mr. Baxter," he said.

"It's an unfortunate turn of words in an interview. That can happen. And in this case, when you get to look at it from a 20,000-foot level, ten-and-a-half years later, you can say, 'Well, I shouldn't have said it that way."

Former minister Rich Coleman pictured in June 2020. Coleman retired from politics later that year.
Former minister Rich Coleman pictured in June 2020. Coleman retired from politics later that year.(CBC)

Two senior gaming investigators testified they raised concerns dating back to 2009 about increasing amounts of suspicious cash likely linked to organized crime appearing at Vancouver-area casinos.

Coleman told the commission it was difficult to address money laundering at B.C. casinos directly because there were complex legal issues related to proving whether suspicious cash at casinos was illegal money.

The province called the inquiry in 2018 after reports detailed how more than $100 million had been cleaned in B.C.'s gaming, luxury car and real estate sectors over a decade and a half.

Final submissions are scheduled for early July. Commissioner Austin F. Cullen has until Dec. 15 to deliver his report to the province.