Prime Time Crime

RCMP failed Asian probe: board

Stewart Bell and Tom Blackwell

National Post

Friday, September 19, 2003

Asian organized crime figures may have entered Canada because the RCMP failed to properly investigate allegations of widespread corruption at the Canadian high commission in Hong Kong, a scathing report by a federal committee has concluded.

 

In a report that vindicates a Mountie who was fired for blowing the whistle on the affair, the RCMP External Review Committee said the police force seriously mishandled its investigations into complaints that Asian triads had infiltrated the embassy.

 

"While there is no evidence of a cover-up on the part of the force, there were important shortcomings in the investigative process followed by the force since 1991, with the result that it remains possible that employees of the mission were able to engage in immigration fraud on a widespread basis and that such activities have remained undetected to date," it said.

      Credit: Dave Chan

      National Post

The report adds that the possible consequences of the failure were that "Hong Kong residents who should not have been admitted to Canada, such as triad members, were able to bypass any screening by immigration officials prior to receiving a visa to immigrate to Canada."

The RCMP was reluctant to investigate the activities of embassy employees suspected of taking bribes, partly because it did not want to damage its relationship with the Department of Foreign Affairs, the committee found.

The committee ruled that RCMP Corporal Robert Read was justified in taking his concerns to the press and said that he should be reinstated. Cpl. Read was ordered to resign or be fired last year after the RCMP found him guilty of disgraceful and outrageous conduct for leaking allegations of government corruption and cover-up to the media.

The External Review Committee, an independent commission that reports to the Solicitor-General, delivered its report last Wednesday to Giuliano Zaccardelli, the RCMP Commissioner, who must decide whether to reinstate Cpl. Read. A copy of the report was obtained by the National Post.

Cpl. Read, a 26-year veteran of the force, was assigned in the mid-1990s to investigate complaints about the embassy. He believed he had uncovered evidence of corruption. He also found and highlighted an earlier report that raised concerns about misuse of the embassy's immigration computer system.

But his superior officer ordered him to drop the case on the grounds he had not revealed any serious wrongdoing. Cpl. Read complained to the force's ethics commissioner, the RCMP public complaints commission and the auditor-general. Frustrated at the lack of action, he took his concerns to the press.

On Aug. 26, 1999, Fabian Dawson of the Vancouver Province published what the committee said was "among the most detailed accounts" of the matter, revealing that Chinese mafia members had allegedly paid embassy employees to scrub their criminal backgrounds from Canadian government computer files.

Cpl. Read was ordered to resign or be fired for talking to reporters, but the External Review Committee said he should not have been. Philippe Rabot, the committee chair, said Cpl. Read had well-founded concerns and was acting in the public interest when he went public with the story.

"What is at issue was a deliberate choice made by the RCMP not to pursue an investigation into possible criminal wrongdoing even though numerous examples had been drawn to its attention of incidents that suggested that an immigration fraud ring was operating within the very premises of the mission and possibly involved employees of the government of Canada," Mr. Rabot wrote. "If that is not a matter of legitimate public concern, very few issues will ever be so."

The ruling is important because it opens the door to allowing RCMP officers to blow the whistle when they have reasonable grounds to suspect investigations are being wrongly quashed. The RCMP has maintained that it is not appropriate for a police officer to break secrecy.

The events concern the build-up to Britain's 1997 hand-over of Hong Kong to Communist China, a period when thousands of residents sought to emigrate to countries such as Canada out of fears that Beijing would rule with an iron hand.

Concerns about the Canadian high commission surfaced in 1991, when Hong Kong resident Choi Sim Leung complained that two embassy employees had offered to expedite her visa application for $10,000.

Later, two local employees, Christina Wong and Constance Ho, along with the wife of a Canadian embassy official, were seen at a bank depositing large sums of cash. Both employees worked at the embassy's immigration section and had access to its electronic database. Fake immigration visa stamps were found in the desk of another local employee, Ella Kwan, who is now a Vancouver immigration consultant.

The RCMP sent an officer to Hong Kong to investigate but he concluded there was not enough evidence to lay charges. But during the probe he learned that Brian McAdam, the embassy's immigration control officer, suspected that Asian triads had infiltrated the computer system in order to scrub their names from watch lists.

In 1993, Ms. Wong resigned suddenly and had "reportedly gone into hiding because triads were actively attempting to collect gambling debts from her," the report said. An RCMP officer attempted to reopen the investigation but was unsuccessful.

That same year, new information surfaced that Canadian officials at the embassy were accepting expensive gifts from the Pong family, wealthy Hong Kong industrialists. One employee was given a gold watch. Others were taken to the race track and handed envelopes full of cash, ostensibly for betting.

The report found evidence that Foreign Affairs had pressured the RCMP into curtailing the probe "because it did not want the force to know what truly happened." The decision to drop the investigation came after the RCMP Liaison officer posted in Hong Kong wrote a letter warning that the high commissioner "will be screaming at the highest political levels" if a probe went ahead.

Another investigation began in 1995 into complaints by Mr. McAdam, who had quit the previous year, and was alleging that embassy staff were associating with "known criminals" and accepting money for race track betting. The investigator asked Cpl. Read to look at Mr. McAdam's concerns.

But Cpl. Read was dissatisfied with the way the RCMP responded to his findings. He wrote a letter to his superintendent complaining that he had found "considerable evidence" backing up allegations of corruption by senior government officials but that the investigation had been halted after the suspects complained.

"I agree with McAdam's belief that my superiors don't take this complaint sufficiently seriously," he wrote. "If they did they would have a team of investigators working on this extremely important case."

Only after Cpl. Read went public in 1999 did the RCMP re-open the case and determined the early investigations had been flawed, but no charges have ever been laid in relation to the embassy corruption scandal.

Copyright  2003 National Post

   Primetimecrime current headlines                                                 Robert Read Asian triads Affair