BC Green leader to prod government into seizing homes of money launderers, tax evaders, real estate racketeers

By Drew Penner

The BC Green party wants the province to start seizing the homes of foreign buyers involved in criminal activity as the NDP government waffles on the legality of such a move.

In response to a ThinkPol article [1]https://thinkpol.ca/2018/01/16/bc-can-legally-seize-lawbreaking-foreign-buyers-homes-lawyer-says/ quoting a lawyer saying it would be legal for authorities to confiscate property in an abhorrent real estate deal, Greens leader Andrew Weaver told us there are huge problems with BC’s property market.

For one, we don’t even know just how bad fraudulent transactions, like in Fu v. Zhu [2]http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/sc/18/00/2018BCSC0009.htm, a B.C. Supreme Court case where two Chinese families argued about who owns three multimillion-dollar homes on the West Side of Vancouver, he explained.

“It’s hard to say how common it is because of lack of transparency and inadequate data, which is huge part of the problem,” he told ThinkPol. “We have heard from industry experts, lawyers and academics who suggest it is widespread, but it’s hard to pin down the extent of the problem.”

Weaver says government needs to take steps to learn more about who who’s purchasing BC real estate in order to crack down on fraud.

“The BC government needs to limit people’s ability to hide their identities through shell corporations, numbered companies and trusts,” he said, adding the new real estate regulator could help cut down on abuses by ending the self-regulation of the industry. “We are monitoring closely to ensure that the superintendent has the powers needed at his or her disposal to ensure real estate profession is working in best interests of British Columbians.”

The Green Party plans to use its significant role in the current government set-up to make sure the superintendent’s office has the fangs to take a bite out of the office.
But, Weaver says there’s no reason why the Civil Forfeiture Office[3]https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/crime-prevention/civil-forfeiture-office can’t take over homes involved in illegal dealings, they way it would with any other kind of property – although he notes it would require legal vetting to confirm that.

“The BC Civil Forfeiture Office has the right to seize any property or profits involved in unlawful activity,” he said. “Criminal activity needs to be cracked down on because it’s criminal, not because of whether perpetrators are foreign or not.”

The CFO doesn’t even have to wait for suspects to be charged to start confiscating property, although homes supposedly involved in illegal dealings aren’t necessarily easy targets. In some cases it’s clear that’s a good thing.

For example, while Mumtaz Ladha received an RCMP apology after being acquitted of human trafficking, in 2017 she still had to settle the lawsuit she’d brought against the Civil Forfeiture Office. A Globe and Mail report noted the Ladha family had racked up $392,630 in legal fees for the criminal case and $159,331 for the forfeiture case. The office had pursued her multi-million home even after the Crown had decided against filing charges[4]https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/bc-woman-acquitted-of-human-trafficking-settles-case-over-civil-forfeiture/article35933915/.

While BC New Democrats said they wanted a review of the Civil Forfeiture Act when Christy Clark was in office, they seem to have changed their tune now that they’ve tasted power.

Provincial NDP sources confirmed to ThinkPol this week that they are unsure about the legality of confiscating property of foreign buyers involved in shady real estate transactions.

For its part, the Attorney General’s office declined to comment on whether the Fu v. Zhu case would impact its plans for action against foreign buyers who come into property illegally.

But Weaver is gearing up to prod the government into action, explaining why he think the CFO can be a legal and useful tool in BC’s arsenal to deal with the inflow of investment cash.

“Adequate enforcement of our laws – including civil seizure in certain cases – is essential to cracking down on money laundering, tax evasion, and use of our real estate market as speculative haven,” he said. “This is not specific to investment from any one country.

“Lax real estate rules and lack of enforcement at multiple levels of government is a problem – it opens us up to abuse.”

References   [ + ]

1. https://thinkpol.ca/2018/01/16/bc-can-legally-seize-lawbreaking-foreign-buyers-homes-lawyer-says/
2. http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/sc/18/00/2018BCSC0009.htm
3. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/crime-prevention/civil-forfeiture-office
4. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/bc-woman-acquitted-of-human-trafficking-settles-case-over-civil-forfeiture/article35933915/