Archive for December, 2003

How money is laundered

Wednesday, December 31st, 2003

Criminals with lots of cash use various ways to make it look legitimate

Neal Hall
Sun

RCMP spokesperson Russ Grabb with some of the $1.23 million seized following a 1998 investigation of a drug operation. CREDIT: Steve Bosch, Vancouver Sun

Money laundering occurs when criminals turn cash made from illegal activities into “clean” money through what appear to be legitimate business enterprises.

The issue arose this week when RCMP announced that a 20-month investigation into marijuana trafficking and cocaine importing led to police executing search warrants at various locations, including the legislature offices of two non-elected staff members.

“I can say that in general, the spread of organized crime just in the past two years has been like a cancer on the social and economic well-being of all British Columbians,” RCMP Sergeant John Ward said.

“Today, the value of the illegal marijuana trade alone is estimated to be worth in excess of $6 billion. We are seeing major increases in organized crime-related murders, beatings, extortion, money laundering, and other activity which touches many innocent lives.”

Drug trafficking generates huge amounts of cash for organized crime, which “launders” illegal profits to avoid prosecution, increase wealth and evade taxes, according to an RCMP report on money laundering.

“The principal objective of money laundering is to convert cash to some other form of asset, to conceal the illegal source or origin of cash income,” says the report by the RCMP proceeds of crime branch.

“Criminals eventually use these funds, ascribed to a ‘legitimate’ source, which then cover the tracks of the illegitimate business that generated the cash in the first place.”

Police say the amount of laundered money in Canada‘s financial system is staggering.

“Drug trafficking alone generates billions of illegal dollars for criminal organizations every year,” the report said. “Although it is difficult to pinpoint the exact amount, it is clear that the problem is vast.”

The report says money laundering has devastating social consequences, in that illegally gained funds provide financial support for drug dealers, terrorists, arms dealers and other criminals to operate and expand their criminal empires.

According to the report, money laundering methods include:

- Smurfing. Probably the most commonly used method, it involves many individuals who deposit cash or buy bank drafts in amounts under $10,000. This method is common to both Canada and the U.S. Deposits of more than $10,000 have to be reported by banks.

- Bank complicity. A co-opted bank employee facilitates illegal money laundering.

- Currency exchanges. They provide a service that permits buying foreign currency that can be transported out of the country. Money can also be wired to offshore bank accounts.

- Securities brokers. A stock broker can take large wads of cash and issue securities in exchange.

- Asset purchases with bulk cash. Money launderers purchase such big-ticket items as cars, boats, planes or real estate. In many cases, launderers may use the asset but will distance themselves by having assets registered in the name of a friend or trusted associate.

- Electronic transfer of funds. Wiring money from one city or country to another. This can be done using “dummy” companies set up for money laundering.

- Postal money orders. Cash is exchanged for money orders, which are then shipped out of the country for deposit.

- Credit cards. Criminals often overpay credit cards and keep a high credit balance that can be turned into cash at any time and place.

- Gambling in casinos. Cash can be taken to a casino to purchase chips. After gambling, chips can be redeemed at the cashier’s cage, where a casino cheque is issued.

- Refining. Individuals change small bills into large ones by visiting a number of banks so as not to arouse suspicion. The purpose of refining is to decrease the bulk of larger cash quantities. Drug deals, for example, often involve large amounts of $20 bills.

- Legitimate business/commingling of funds. Criminals take over or invest in businesses such as restaurants, hotels, nightclubs or vending machines that handle a high cash volume, thereby mixing illicit proceeds with legitimate business.

- Reverse flip. A money launderer may find a cooperative property seller who agrees to a reported purchase price well below the actual value and then accepts the difference “under the table.” The launderer can, for example, purchase a $2 million property for $1 million and, after holding the property for some time, sell it for its true value of $2 million.

- Loanback. A criminal provides an associate with a specific amount of illegitimate money. The associate then provides a “loan or mortgage” back to the trafficker for the same amount with all the necessary “loan and/or mortgage” documentation. This creates an illusion that the trafficker’s funds are legitimate. The scheme is reinforced through “legitimately” scheduled payments made on the loan by the traffickers.

The RCMP says it has had considerable success in attacking the assets of criminals through proceeds of crime legislation.

One five-year B.C. project that concluded in 1997 resulted in more than $17 million in assets being seized by police and eventually forfeited, including: an ocean-going freighter, eight luxury homes worth $1 million to $2 million each, six tugboats, $800,000 in lottery tickets and $1 million in cash, jewellery and other valuables.

© Copyright  2003 Vancouver Sun

Grapes picked in icy conditions yield a sublime nectar prized the world over

Wednesday, December 31st, 2003

Eric Akis
Sun

Warm and rich, Icewine Sabayon is the perfect way to end dinner. CREDIT: Bruce Stotesbury, CanWest News Service; Victoria Times-Colonist

Buckets of Champagne will spill into glasses and recipes tonight in celebration of the New Year to come. When recently sipping a glass of Canadian icewine, I wondered if this sublime nectar could ever fill this role.

For some years, icewine has been offered to close a meal in the grandest style. It is often paired with the finest desserts or incorporated into them.

But what about serving icewine before the meal, during the meal, or even in the meal?

A colleague told me she loves the flavour of icewine, but after a rich meal, usually with a glass or two of fabulous dinner wine, her palate is often too tired to appreciate the splendid, almost overpowering taste of icewine.

When considering the possibilities, I looked to another French wine with some similar qualities — Sauternes. For gourmands, this luscious, sweet, golden wine is best enjoyed early on with a food of equal flavour intensity: foie gras.

In the handy guide for wine novices, Clueless about Wine by Richard Kitowski and Jocelyn Klemm (Key Porter), the authors note the rich syrupy texture of Sauternes complements the rich, silken fatness of the goose liver; the sweetness of the wine contrasts with the liver’s savoury flavour.

With Quebec being home to some of the best of foie gras around, it seemed only natural to me that Canadian icewine would be the perfect accompaniment. However, I don’t recall ever seeing it served in a high-end restaurant.

“It should be the classic Canadian interpretation, but few chefs prepare it,” says Vancouver Sun wine columnist Anthony Gismondi.

I decided to give it go. To simplify things, instead of sautéing slices of foie gras, I bought some ready to eat goose liver paté, placing thin slices on lightly toasted rounds of baguette. I took one bite of this elegant canapé, and then a sip of icewine. Excuse my language, but “culinary orgasm” is the only way I can describe the heavenly combination of flavours.

The icewine also worked well with equally rich, but less costly duck liver paté, and my own homemade, buttery, chicken liver paté.

Wilf Krutzmann, owner of The Wine Barrel, a VQA wine store in Victoria, which offers an amazing array of icewines, says camembert also pairs beautifully with the wine.

“The rich and creamy texture of the cheese goes beautifully with the sweet and seductive flavours of the wine. To me, it’s like Stilton and Port — they’re a perfect match,” says Krutzmann.

I took up his suggestion and sipped some icewine while nibbling some Comox camembert, an award-winning version of the cheese made by Natural Pastures Cheese Company in Courtenay. Wow! The two married perfectly, and what made the experience more rewarding was that both the wine and the cheese were produced in B.C.

After establishing that icewine can be successfully paired with savoury foods, I wondered what else I might do with it. Pour it into a cocktail? Perhaps add a dash to a savoury dish? But at around $50 for a 375 mL bottle, why would I do that? For the same reason we add other pricey liquids such as cognac, Grand Marnier, truffle oil or pure vanilla — it’s for the intense, unique and splendiferous tastes even just a drop can provide.

This proved very true with a drink my wife and I enjoyed at the Bengal Lounge in The Empress. It was called an Icetini; a well-chilled combination of Riesling icewine, calvados and white grape juice. The divine flavours of the icewine made this cocktail linger lusciously on the palate long after the final sip was taken.

Several savoury dishes call for a splash of something sweet. Usually, when I prepare cedar plank salmon, I flavour the fish with a little maple syrup. Why not try the more complex taste of icewine? When blended with sea salt, the tart flavour of lemon, the licorice taste of tarragon and spiciness of black pepper, it proved to be one of the most delicious decisions I’ve ever made.

I’ve included the recipe for the fish, and for a few other dishes designed for celebrations.

In the New Year, I plan to explore more of the fine foods and wines of Canada. Discovering new ways to pair and use icewine has deliciously provided the motivation to taste and celebrate what this country has to offer.

FOIE GRAS PATE CANAPES

The rich and luxurious taste of the foie gras (goose liver) matches beautifully with the sweet and seductive taste of icewine.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 5 minutes

Makes: 8 canapés, 4 servings

8 1/4-inch slices goose liver paté (about 120 grams or 4 oz)

8 thin rounds baguette, lightly toasted

8 red grape slices, each cut into a diamond shape

8 green grape slices, each cut into a diamond shape

Set a slice of foie gras pate on each toast round. Decorate centre with a diamond shaped red and green grape slice. Serve immediately.

Note: To toast baguette rounds. Bake on a non-stick baking sheet in 350 F oven for 8-10 minutes. Cool to room temperature before using.

FAIRMONT EMPRESS ICETINI

My wife and I enjoyed this divine cocktail at the Bengal Lounge. Luckily the Hotel was willing to share the recipe. It serves one.

In martini shaker, pour over ice:

1 1/2 oz Riesling icewine

1/2 oz Calvados

2 oz white grape juice

Shake vigorously and strain into martini glass. Garnish with frozen grape.

ICEWINE CURED CEDAR PLANK SALMON

Cedar plank salmon is usually done of the barbecue. To simplify the process, and to keep you out of the wind and rain, this version is done in the oven.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 15-20 minutes

Makes: 4 portions

4 5-6-oz salmon fillets

1 1/2 oz Pinot Blanc icewine

1 Tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp dried tarragon

2 tsp coarse sea salt

2 tsp coarsely cracked black pepper

Submerge an untreated cedar plank in cold water for at least an hour. Place the salmon in a dish just large enough to hold it in a single layer. Combine the icewine, lemon juice and tarragon in a bowl. Spoon the mixture over the salmon. Turn the salmon to coat on all sides. Season the salmon with salt and pepper on both sides. Marinate in the refrigerator 20 minutes. Turn the salmon over and marinate 20 minutes more. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Remove the plank from water and, with a paper towel, pat the smooth side dry. Remove the salmon from the marinade and set on the plank. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until just cooked through.

Note: Untreated cedar planks are sold at most supermarkets.

ICEWINE SABAYON

This rich, warm dessert will bring a light and dreamy end to dinner.

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

4 large egg yolks, at room temperature

1/3 cup icewine

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/2 tsp grated orange zest

- wafer cookies or lady fingers, and fresh fruit slices for dipping

Place the egg yolks, icewine, sugar and orange zest in a medium-sized heatproof bowl. Beat with a thin wire whisk or electric mixer until very light and foamy. Place the bowl over, not in, simmering water. Continue beating until the mixture greatly increases in volume, becomes almost as thick as whipped cream, and begins to feel warm. It should not feel hot. You may need to remove it from the heat occasionally to reach the correct thickness and temperature. Do not overcook it or you will curdle the eggs. Divide and spoon the sabayon into decorative glasses and set on a dessert plate. Garnish and surround glass with cookies and fruit for dipping. Serve immediately.

Eric Akis’s columns appear in the Victoria times-Colonist’s Life Section Wednesdays and Sundays. The author of the best-selling Everyone Can Cook (Whitecap Books) can be reached at [email protected]

© Copyright 2003 Vancouver Sun

BC housing sales head for an all-time record

Monday, December 29th, 2003

Sun

Shame on the city, but kudos to the burbs

Saturday, December 27th, 2003

Sun

Records set for sales of High-End Properies

Friday, December 26th, 2003

Records set for sales of High-End Properies

Wyng Chow
Sun

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Lower Mainland home prices set record

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2003

Frank Luba and Ashley Ford
Province

Canada‘s housing market — with the Lower Mainland leading the charge — is ending the year on a high.

People like Malcolm Laird and his wife Sandra Stolz, who sold their home in Calgary for about $270,000 and bought a duplex on the west side of Vancouver for $660,000, are part of a trend in which sales and prices across the country have set records.

Royal LePage Real Estate Services said in its latest report released yesterday that in B.C. “inventory levels could not keep pace with the number of buyers vying for new homes and contributed to upward pressure on prices.”

Laird, 52, a high school teacher in Calgary who’s now a mortgage broker, and his lawyer wife believe the trend will continue.

“We feel the Vancouver housing market is going to do nothing but continue to go up,” said Laird. “We don’t think it’s a bubble.”

Their 3,000-square-foot home in Calgary had five bedrooms and three bathrooms. When they take possession of their new home in January, it won’t be that much different — 2,850 square feet with three bedrooms, 21/2 bathrooms and a finished suite in the basement.

The cost was the big change.

“I think you develop, slowly after a few months, the realization that this is what you’re going to have to pay,” said Laird. “There’s a price that comes with the lifestyle.”

Royal LePage says the average price of a two-storey home on the Lower Mainland has increased by 13.2 per cent this year to $475,420, a detached bungalow by 12.2 per cent to $369,271 and a condominium by 8.3 per cent to $185,516.

Bill Binnie, president of Royal LePage Northshore Vancouver, said there has been no customary pre-Christmas sales slowdown.

“We are expecting high sales levels will continue into the first quarter of next year,” he said.

Royal says prices are up across the country with the average price of a detached bungalow rising 7.2 per cent over the past year to $238,678; a standard two-storey home 6.4 per cent to $266,039; and a condo 6.9 per cent to $154,484.

The highest price increases were in St. John’s, Nfld., and Saint John, N.B., followed by Vancouver and Victoria.

© Copyright  2003 The Province

No Money Down: Banks Change Mortgage Conditions

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2003

Sun

Pent-up demand pushes housing sales

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2003

Sun

Vancouver’s convention business bounces back

Friday, December 19th, 2003

The sector is more stable than leisure travel, say hotels and tourism industry members

Bruce Constantineau
Sun

Stuart Davis, Vancouver Sun files / Remember the Shriners? Kenneth Smith, imperial potentate of the Gizeh Temple, brought the huge convention to Vancouver in the summer of 2002. It was estimated at the time that this meeting alone brought in 15,000 delegates and their families, who spent more than $28 million in the city.

The number of international meetings held in Vancouver shot up by 70 per cent last year — the highest percentage increase of any North American city, according to a Union of International Associations report.

The report said the number of international organizations holding meetings in Vancouver rose from 33 in 2001 to 56 last year, as the meetings sector rebounded from the downturn caused by the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

“Canadian cities benefit from being a North American location without some of the political and security issues associated with the U.S.,” said Convention Centres of Canada executive director Rod Cameron.

“And a lot of U.S. groups don’t want to travel overseas now, so Canada is a good option for them as well.”

The report said the number of international meetings held in Montreal rose by 61 per cent last year (from 54 to 87) while the number of meetings in Toronto increased by 37 per cent (from 35 to 48). The number of meetings in Seattle dropped from 27 in 2001 to 24 last year.

The UIA report centres on meetings sponsored or organized by international organizations.

Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre general manager Barbara Maple said business at the convention centre dropped off only slightly following the terrorist attacks. The number of annual delegate days at the centre fell from 194,000 to 169,000 after 9/11 but it rebounded to more than 206,000 for the 12 months ending in March of this year.

Maple noted meeting and convention business is traditionally more stable than leisure travel, which dropped off substantially last year.

“Associations have annual meetings and it’s usually in their bylaws that they have to have them,” she said. “They obviously have a choice of where they can go but they can’t just choose to not have one.

“That’s why the business is more stable and less affected by outside events. We had a few meetings postponed this year [because of the SARS scare] but they usually come back.”

Maple noted the long-term planning associated with booking conventions makes it a steadier and more predictable business. VCEC officials now are looking to book business for 2010 and beyond, she said.

A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study said the downturn in global leisure travel has made the meetings and conventions business a more important tourism industry revenue source than ever before.

The study said that before 2000, convention business accounted for 18 per cent of the revenue and 20 per cent of the profits of U.S. hotels. But those figures rose to 23 per cent and 27 per cent respectively last year when the downturn in leisure travel caused U.S. hotel occupancy rates to hit their lowest levels in 31 years.

Westin Bayshore Resort & Marina general manager Mark Andrew agrees that group and meeting business is more predictable than leisure travel and said meeting business at the hotel has bounced back strongly in recent months.

“We’ve had a steady climb in conference business year over year and that business has basically doubled [since a $50 million renovation was completed in 2000],” he said. “I could always ask for more but I’m very happy with the way it’s trending.”

Westin Grand Hotel general manager Stephen Darling said Vancouver is very fortunate to have a diversified tourism marketplace that generates business from many sources — including corporate, leisure, convention, film business and others.

Seattle has relatively little leisure travel in their whole makeup,” he said. “They’re strong on conventions and strong on corporate travel, particularly related to Microsoft and Boeing, but there’s not as much leisure business.”

© Copyright  2003 Vancouver Sun

Main Street slated to become a paradise

Thursday, December 18th, 2003

Transit officials plan to make the street a model for other routes

Maurice Bridge
Sun

Main Street’s buses now face congestion but transit officials are planning to spend $6.4 million to improve traffic flow. CREDIT: Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER - Main Street is about to become a $6.4-million showcase for improved urban transit.

The Greater Vancouver Transit Authority (GVTA), the Greater Vancouver Regional District and Transport Canada plan to spend the money over the next three years on improvements like “bus bulges” and “queue jumpers” to turn the No. 3 Main bus route into a model for other routes.

It’s one of several innovative new programs by the transit authority and the district aimed at getting Lower Mainland commuters out of their cars and on to other modes of transportation.

The Main Street route, which is 8.2 kilometres long, is one of the most heavily used in the Lower Mainland. No. 3 buses carry an average of more than 23,000 people every day, and other buses on the same route at the downtown end add another 7,000. The No. 3 is standing-room-only from about 6:30 a.m. until nearly 10 a.m., and then again from mid-afternoon until about 7 p.m.

Only Broadway buses, with about 50,000 riders, and Granville buses, which reach 100,000 with all the suburban buses running in from Richmond, Delta, Surrey and White Rock, carry more riders on a daily basis.

But the problem isn’t the number of riders — it’s the frequency of the buses. Heavy commercial and private-vehicle traffic on Main, plus a lot of traffic and pedestrian stop-lights, means buses get jammed in the flow.

Despite a bylaw requiring drivers to give right-of-way to a bus moving back into traffic from the curb, one driver laments that “even the cops don’t let us in”.

In the mornings, 16 per cent of northbound buses run late, and 22 per cent of southbound buses. In the evenings, late southbounds drop to 22 per cent, but northbounds record a dismal 83-per-cent late-rate.

“This is the problem of the banana service,” says Stephen Rees, program manager for transportation policy at the Greater Vancouver Transit Authority (GVTA), whose job it is to make the Main Street showcase a reality. “You know, the buses only come in bunches.”

It’s a concept easily understood by anyone who has waited too long on a rainy day at a stop without a shelter, and Main Street has plenty of those.

“In congested conditions, the front bus starts getting later and later as it’s delayed, and it picks up more and more people who were waiting for the bus behind.

“Eventually, what happens is the bus behind, because it’s not picking up so many people, catches up to the bus in front. So instead of one bus every five minutes, you’ve got three buses every 15.

“The idea of regularizing the system is to keep that spacing even, so that people see a five-minute frequency and not a 15-minute frequency.”

The showcase project plans to redesign the streetscape with “bus bulges” — extensions of the curb at bus stops and intersections that allow buses to load and unload passengers without pulling out of traffic. These also make street crossings narrower, reducing the time needed for pedestrian-crossing signals and speeding up the flow of all traffic.

“Queue jumpers” — short , dedicated bus lanes at congestion points along the route — will allow buses to move quickly past areas that currently slow them down.

A signal-priority system will allow buses to “hold” green lights long enough to get them through intersections, reducing the number of stops for red lights. Better bus stops, with electronic displays similar to those used on the No. 98 B-Line are to be included to make using the bus more attractive to a wider range of riders.

The three-year project aims to improve efficiency by 10 to 15 per cent, and the GVTA suggests the freed-up resources could be used to increase bus service along Main by up to 20 per cent.

Rees notes that the point is not simply to make the buses go faster. That could be achieved by turning the curb lane over exclusively to buses, he says, but it wouldn’t achieve the desired goals.

“What that does is, it antagonizes people, because it puts fast traffic next to people who are walking on the sidewalks, and when the sidewalks are crowded, that’s an uncomfortable feeling for everybody.

“It also gives people the wrong impression that what we’re trying to do is just speed up the buses and get you through your neighborhood, and that’s not the idea at all.

He adds that the aim of the Main Street showcase is not simply to push the GVTA agenda, but to work with the city.

“Yes, we’ll get better transit reliability,” he says, “but also there should be considerable improvements in the way the street works, commercially and socially.”

[email protected]

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ABOUT #3

Daily riders on Main Street buses: 30,000

Percentage of non-transferring riders: 70

Length of route: 8.2 kilometres

Frequency of No. 3 buses: 4-5 minutes (day); 7-8 minutes (evening)

Vehicles per day on Main Street: 15,000 (south of Broadway); 25,000 (north of Broadway to Dunsmuir Viaduct)

Percentage of late No. 3 northbounds in the afternoon: 83

© Copyright  2003 Vancouver Sun