PANAMA, and to a lesser extent, Trinidad and Tobago, are known money-laundering havens where one can stash millions of dollars and transfer funds to offshore accounts without authorities finding out, say two Canadian experts in shady international transactions.
On Monday, federal police in Panama arrested Arthur Porter, former head of the McGill University Health Centre, along with his wife. The couple were wanted by Quebec police on charges of money-laundering and conspiracy arising from the $1.3-billion contract to build the MUHC superhospital.
Police in Panama said Porter was planning to stay in Panama City for one day before flying to Trinidad and Tobago. Porter and his wife did not give any reasons for their itinerary, and a Gazette search of corporate and other records has found that Porter does not have any business interests in those two countries.
Quebec police affidavits obtained by The Gazette reveal that Canada’s money-laundering agency, FINTRAC, provided information on Porter to investigators, revealing a tangled web of international transactions. The affidavits allege that former executives of SNC-Lavalin, the engineering firm that won the contract to build the MUHC superhospital, made $22.5 million in unapproved payments, with much of that money ending up in Canadian and Bahamian bank accounts held by Porter.
Garry Clement, a money-laundering expert and former director of the RCMP’s proceeds-of-crime division, did not comment specifically on the Porter case. But he did explain why criminals are attracted to depositing their cash in a Panamanian bank and why they might want to transfer funds to Trinidad and Tobago.
“Panama is a major haven for money-laundering, and corruption is still fairly rampant in the country,” said Clement, who completed part of his training in the Central American nation.
Money-launderers first set up a dummy company with the help of a law firm in Panama. The company is a bearer-share corporation, meaning that it issues shares in which ownership cannot be traced. By contrast, bearer-share corporations are not allowed in Canada, he noted.
The bearer-share corporation then opens a Panamanian bank account in a country where depositing large amounts of cash is not frowned upon.
“Once you’ve got the money into a financial institution, and it appears that it’s coming from a corporation, now the world is your oyster,” Clement said. “You’re able to move it around the world. Most launderers will probably move it first (electronically) to the United Arab Emirates, then probably move it off to the Caribbean and then back into Canada or anywhere else.”
Trinidad and Tobago, he added, is “definitely” an option for funnelling cash.
FINTRAC officials did not want to comment on the Porter case. But Peter Lamey, a senior communications officer for FINTRAC, emailed The Gazette a report on money-laundering in Trinidad and Tobago.
Chris Walker, a member of the Canadian Anti Money-Laundering Institute, noted that more than 370,000 international companies are registered in Panama, along with 31 offshore banks.
“People still view Panama as a place where you can take your dirty money and you can clean it through their various banks,” Walker said.
(Source: The Gazette)