How many shell companies exist in Canada? How many legal trusts? Who are the beneficial owners protected by such unnecessary veils of secrecy? No one knows because in most cases there is no legal requirement to disclose actual ownership even to regulators. In fact, more information is required to get a library card than to set up a company in most jurisdictions in Canada. What we do know is that Canada ranks near the bottom among our OECD partners in terms of corporate disclosure requirements to fight money laundering and tax evasion. A recent report from Transparency International detailed the dismal situation and why our country has become a haven for dubious offshore property speculation.
Reading this article today, I am dumbfounded that Anbang managed to get this far in the purchase of B.C. commercial real-estate without red flags going up. This mysterious Chinese company, Anbang Insurance Group has attracted the attention of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune Magazine, and government authorities in the United States and other countries. A months-long investigation by the New York Times revealed an extremely opaque structure, empty offices, obscure shareholders, and extensive political connections to the Chinese elite. Anbang has all the earmarks of Chinese money laundering, corruption at the highest levels, and mysterious shell companies. It is a cautionary tale for Canadian authorities fretting over foreign real-estate buyers and skyrocketing real-estate prices.
The agency warning about a strong risk of Canadian housing market problems on the horizon has been expected. “CMHC has recently observed spillover effects from Vancouver and Toronto into nearby markets,” said CMHC chief executive officer Evan Siddall said in an opinion column in The Globe and Mail. These nearby housing market effects have radiated from Vancouver to the Fraser Valley and particularly the Okanagan. The effect of Vancouver sellers purchasing properties in desirable areas beyond Vancouver proper, and Asian buyers purchasing properties in the Okanagan have been noted, following the same pattern as in Vancouver.
In the last three days, both The Globe & Mail and CBC News have published disturbing stories about the scale of the Chinese infiltration of the Vancouver housing market that go well beyond anything understood or encompassed by BC government or federal government action on the problem. The CBC reported that at least $13.5 Million in cash has been confiscated from Chinese recently entering Canada at Vancouver International Airport. The following story, reblogged from The Globe & Mail, tells a tale of fraud, manipulation, and tax evasion on a massive scale. It also tells an embarrassing tale of gross incompetence by Canadian authorities. All of this is consistent with other investigative journalists reports from the United States on other similar fraudulent Chinese real-estate activities. Some of these reports go back years. The original Mossack Fonseca “Panama Papers” revelations that indicated that many of the Chinese elite with family links to Li Xinping, and The People’s Liberation Army had Mossack Fonseca accounts should have been a red flag for Canada, but was not. We are living in an entirely new global economy manipulated by dark forces. What will we do now that Vancouver has been ruined for decades to come?
A mysterious Chinese company, Anbang Insurance Group has attracted the attention of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune Magazine, and government authorities in the United States and other countries. The cause of the scrutiny has been Anbang’s sudden involvement in a number of massive multi-billion dollar real estate investments around the World. Formed in 2004, Anbang apparently holds assets worth at least $295 Billion, but a months-long investigation by the New York Times has revealed an extremely opaque structure, empty offices, obscure shareholders, and extensive political connections to the Chinese elite. Analysis of Anbang and its operations holds a potential lesson for Canadian authorities fretting over foreign buyers and skyrocketing real-estate prices.
I am sharing this because of its particular relevance to the ongoing revelations about connections between global tax evasion shell companies and real estate markets: London, Miami, New York City, San Francisco and Vancouver.
The release of the Panama Papers is of such potential significance and magnitude that it is difficult to know where to begin. I have decided that I will begin with the most interesting and relevant topic for me, the Canadian angle: possible links from Mossack Fonseca’s tax haven shell companies to the Vancouver BC real estate market, the current Canada Revenue Agency investigation of KPMG’s Canadian offshore tax haven scheme, and potential conflicts of interest within CRA. The KPMG and CRA issues have been extensively investigated and reported by CBC News, and also discussed on this site.