Sunday, November 1, 2020

B.C. asks universities, colleges to review cash policies after money laundering report

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B.C. has asked colleges and universities across the province to immediately stop accepting large cash payments from single students and review financial policies, days after another explosive report said such institutions may be another avenue for money laundering.

Minister for Advanced Education Melanie Mark said she sent letters to dozens of institutions on Tuesday, giving them a one-month deadline to share their existing policies for handling cash transactions with the government.

Last week, former RCMP deputy commissioner Peter German said his second report, Dirty Money Part Two, found some private and public post-secondary institutions still accept cash for tuition and other expenses.

German said his team received tips that some international students have been known to register at colleges in person and then, after paying their fees, “withdraw and receive an institutional cheque in reimbursement for their fees.”

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If the original cash came from the proceeds of crime, that would be a classic way of turning dirty money into funds that appear clean.

Currently, post-secondary institutions are responsible for their own policies on handling cash payments. Systems differ from institution to institution: some schools take cash, some don’t and some have limits. Mark said the review is meant to “uncover” what institutions’ policies are and correct any gaps that may exist.

“We want to make sure we close any loopholes immediately,” the minister said.

Student brings $9K cash in duffel bag

The report noted that a student recently appeared at an unnamed college with a duffel bag of $9,000 in cash, asking to deposit it with the college — minus a charge of $150 the student owed.

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German said his team also received tips about private colleges accepting cash for tuition, which, for an international student, tends to be a minimum of $7,000 to $10,000.

B.C. Attorney General David Eby has said the NDP government is looking at requiring all B.C. businesses to report cash transactions over $10,000 to the federal anti-laundering watchdog known as FINTRAC.

Eby said FINTRAC does not track cash transactions at post-secondary institutions, so the issue “is really a bit of a black hole.”

B.C. has 25 public post-secondary institutions and 342 private, career-training institutions.

‘Whack-a-mole’

The section regarding colleges forms part of a chapter that German devotes to an analysis of where dirty cash can move as criminals seek ways to turn it into apparently legitimate money.

Calling it the “whack-a-mole” phenomenon, German identifies cryptocurrencies, auction houses, luxury boats and cash-based cannabis businesses as vulnerable to use by money launderers.

These businesses are vehicles where money launderers may attempt to clean their money, in addition to the previously identified real estate industry, casinos and luxury cars.

Cash at Douglas College ending soon

Three post-secondary institutions in the Metro Vancouver area, for example, all have different histories when it comes to taking cash.

University of British Columbia spokesperson Matthew Ramsey told CBC News the university stopped accepting cash more than 10 years ago.

In an email, Simon Fraser University spokesperson Theodore Tsang said the university hasn’t accepted cash since 2017.

Publicly-funded Douglas College, however, still accepts cash. Last week, spokesperson Regan Lal told CBC News very few students pay in cash and the college will end the practice in 2020.

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