During this volatile period of the COVID pandemic, on-line crimes and fraudulent schemes against innocent Canadian victims mirrors a worrying global trend. Western societies have had their business, social and lifestyle habits changed to such a degree that people, who in pre-COVID days, may have just dabbled in social media and virtual shopping, are now literally being forced to do business, socialize and purchase on-line, making them prime targets for Cyber Hackers and other criminal activity. On the corporate and governmental levels, the same situation exists. Political instability and massive unemployment have shrunk the Canadian economy and threatened Pre-COVID large scale foreign investment projects in every local market sector.
Over the past few years, I wrote numerous articles about corruption and political repression in Africa and Asia, in countries where Canada has bi-lateral trade relationships that inject Billions of USD yearly into the Canadian economy. Many of these countries that Canada deals with have rampant corruption meaning that Canadian companies who do business in such countries, are at high risk for bribery demands, money laundering and an array of other criminal activity.
The Canadian Government’s Financial Watchdog agency is the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, more commonly known as ‘FINTRAC’ (www.fintrac-canafe.gc.ca/intro-eng). Over the past few years FITRAC was plagued with accusations that this Crown agency was ineffectual and unable to execute its remit of being (according to its website) “Canada’s financial intelligence unit…(with a) mandate …to facilitate the detection, prevention and deterrence of money laundering and the financing of terrorist activities, while ensuring the protection of personal information under its control.”
In May and June of this year FINTRAC had amendments to its regulations on the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act (PCMLTFA). Hopefully once these changes come into force FINTRAC should finally get some teeth in its investigative methods and start criminal prosecutions on a wider scale as opposed to taking civil action against suspected companies and individuals as it has done in the past.
A good example of corrupt foreign governments making large scale investments in Canada was in 2012 when Malaysia’s state-owned energy company Petronas acquired Canada’s Progress Energy for $5.5 billion. At the time it was one of Malaysia’s largest foreign investments (In 2018 I reported on this story and interviewed several Malaysian political opposition figures about it that you can find on the ‘Past Articles’ link). Malaysia’s Prime Minister at the time, Najib Razak has since fallen from power in disgrace over the ‘1MDB’ affair, which involves fraud, corruption, and theft of billions of USD from Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund. Razak (who set up the fund) allegedly received nearly $700 Million in personal kickbacks through a complex scheme of money laundering, acquisition of properties in Dubai and an assortment of other criminal financial dealings.
The US Department of Justice investigated the case and Razak is currently facing criminal charges in Malaysia over the affair. It’s therefore highly likely that Petronas’s 2012 acquisition of Progress Energy ( a Canadian company) involved kickbacks and bribes to Malaysia’s former Prime Minister and his cronies. And what did FINTRAC do about it? The answer is nothing. Considering that Canada’s annual Bi-lateral trade with Malaysia in 2018 was $3.8 Billion, and that the ‘1MDB’ affair completely destroyed the reputation of the Malaysian Prime Minister, you may wonder why FINTRAC has not carried out a thorough investigation of Petronas’s acquisition of Progress Energy and other dubious business activities still being carried out by Malaysian Government owned companies in Canada.
In the next few weeks, I will be investigating Canadian companies and individuals who were allegedly complicit in illegal financial dealings with former officials of the Malaysian government in the ‘1MDB’ affair, and the questionable activities of other developing countries who have government owned corporations operating in Canada. As a journalist its my job to investigate and report the news on these corrupt foreign companies operating with impunity in Canada. It’s FINTRAC’s job to investigate and criminally prosecute them. I know I can do my job; the question now is whether FINTRAC can do its job or not. Judging from FINTRAC’s past record, and even with new government directives and legislation to back it up, FINTRAC has to undergo a robust culture change if it’s going to succeed in thwarting money launderers and stopping the illegal financing of terrorist groups who now see Canada as a ‘Soft Target’ compared to our neighbours in the South. Think of it. If you were a money launderer or terrorist which country would you choose to operate from? Canada or the US? Sadly, as a Canadian I would say the answer is the former not the latter.