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Vancouver’s Dirty Money Figures: The Smoking Gun That Wasn’t

By Natalie Obiko Pearson and Natalie Wong for Bloomberg

When British Columbia released its bombshell findings last week that more than C$7 billion ($5.2 billion) was laundered in a single year through the Canadian province — mostly through real estate — it trumpeted that “thousands” of properties might be involved.

It appeared to be conclusive evidence of what many in the city suspected: the 60% surge in Vancouver housing prices in the five years through 2017 was fueled in part by dirty cash, a big chunk flowing from Asia.

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But the government’s case may be less conclusive than it appeared. A closer reading of the studies underlying the announcement shows there’s little hard evidence of actual money laundering, and even then, the amounts could be much smaller. And while one report said much of the suspect money is coming from China, the other pointed to the U.S.

“It’s very difficult for us to really accurately estimate the volume of flows of money laundering,” said Vanessa Iafolla, who researches money laundering at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. “It’s hard to measure something that you can’t see.”

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