A Canadian scandal made in Hong Kong

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Asian Pacific News Service – October 2, 2003

A RCMP investigation that tracked the lives of some of Hong Kong's top tycoons, civil servants and gangsters with strong ties to Canada has been condemned by the police forces own security watchdog.

Now the Jean Chretien-led federal government is facing accusations of pressuring the RCMP to shut down the investigation which was originally sparked by allegations of corruption and organized crime infiltration at the Canadian High Commission in Hong Kong, (see The Asian Pacific Post, April 25- May 8, 2002).

Many of those looked at in the so called 'Hong Kong probe' have strong ties to the Canadian government politicians, do extensive business in British Columbia and Ontario while others had applied to emigrate to Canada.

They include former Hong Kong immigration chief Lawrence Leung, International Basketball Federation chairman Carl Ching Meng Ky, legislator Rita Fan, businessmen brothers Timothy, Robert and Gordon Fu, originally from Taiwan who set up Imperial Consultants in Hong Kong to help thousands to migrate to Canada under an investor immigration program, Albert Yeung Sau Shing chairman of the Emperor Group and tycoons Stanley Ho, Li Ka Shing and Cheng Yu Tung.

In addition, the botched probe also looked at least 16 Triad figures who were applying to emigrate to Canada, including senior thugs of the Sun Yee On, Woh Hop To, Tan Yee and Kung Lok triads.

This month after almost a decade of investigations, reviews and accusations of cover-ups, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police External Review Committee, which is an independent agency that reports to the Canadian Parliament said the Canadian investigators failed to do their job properly.

In a scathing report the review committee said 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.

"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. 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 Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, the committee found.

The highly sensitive and secret investigation was exposed by Asian Pacific Post editorial consultant Fabian Dawson in August 1999 in a series of articles first published in The Province.

The review committee in its report said Dawson published "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.

As a result of the articles, RCMP Corporal Robert Read, who at that time was the key investigator in the case, was fired for talking to the media.

But the review committee ruled that Read was justified in taking his concerns to the press and said that he should be reinstated.

"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 (diplomatic) mission and possibly involved employees of the government of Canada," the external review said.

"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.

Read, who is now teaching English to new immigrants in Ottawa, said he did not want to comment yet on the latest ruling until the RCMPs top brass, which is studying the report, makes a decision whether to give him back his job.

The origins of the investigations has its roots during 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.

The concerns about corruption at the Canadian High Commission were initially sparked in 1991 when a Hong Kong resident Choi Sim Leung, who currently living in Richmond, complained that two embassy employees had offered to expedite her visa application for C$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.

As the investigation began, fake Canadian immigration visa stamps were found in the desk of another local employee, Ella Kwan, who is now a Vancouver immigration consultant.

Around the same time, another embassy official Brian McAdam complained to the RCMP that he suspected that Asian triads had infiltrated the computer system in order to scrub their names from watch lists.

McAdam also filed reports that a wealthy Hong Kong steel dynasty - the Pongs - were providing cash for embassy staff to gamble at the Happy Valley race track while others who were applying to emigrate to Canada were entertaining embassy staff on yachts.

There were also suspicions that a secret contact within the embassy was working with a large immigration consulting firm based in Taiwan and Hong Kong to fast track applications.

Between 1990 and 1995, the immigration control office of the Canadian High Commission in Hong Kong wrote more than 30 reports about triad members seeking visas to go to Canada.

One of the reports filed to the Canadian government from Hong Kong was deemed too controversial because it contained very specific and personal information on a sampling of 16 Triad members trying to or who already had entered Canada.

That report called "Triads Entering Canada" was toned down and the names of the 16 people removed before it was circulated to the RCMP and other law enforcement agencies in North America.

Information in the report written by officers stationed at the Canadian High Commission between 1992 and 1995 was obtained from police files in Hong Kong. The authors wrote: "We have identified in this a sample of 16 crime figures that are among the world's most ruthless, vicious criminals who have sought or are seeking admission to Canada, to highlight the threat that Triad societies, whose members form close knit criminal organizations, many times larger and more powerful than the Mafia, pose to the security of Canadian society."

"...This is evidence that Triad groups are making efforts to solidly transplant their orgnizations in Canada before Britain cedes control of Hong Kong to the PRC."

Around the same time, Lawrence Leung, the former immigration chief in Hong Kong was tracked to a lunch meeting with his wife in the Lan Kwai Fong area as the RCMP began investigating allegations that he may be an operative of the People's Republic of China and using his status within the Canadian embassy to facilitate the immigration to Canada of Chinese agents and Hong Kong residents with organized crime/triad connections.

Leung was never charged with anything and he was eventually granted landed immigrant status in Canada.

In 1993, his daughter was killed by an arrow fired from a crossbow.

The Burnaby, B.C. case has never been solved.

Prior to that the Canadian High Commission in Hong Kong also refused to cooperate with the Special Branch of the RHKP, (Royal Hong Kong Police), which had required assistance to investigate Li Ka Shing's acquisitions in Canada.

His son Victor Li is now eyeing Air Canada.

Rita Fans connections to controversial tycoon Albert Yeung, Carl Chings attempts to come to Canada and his alleged connections to the Triads and Stanley Ho's casino connections were all part of the snowballing probe.

In some of the secert police memos obtained by The Asian Pacific Post there are signs that Canadian officials did not want to pursue the Hong Kong probe.

In one of the memos, a RCMP liaison officer in the former British colony warned Ottawa that the Canadian High Commissioner in Hong Kong would view any investigation by the RCMP into the allegations of gift giving by wealthy Chinese families as a 'witch hunt.'

"No cooperation can be expected from the Pong family," wrote RCMP liaison officer, R.G. Lagimodiere, referring to a wealthy Chinese steel dynasty who had given gambling money to several Canadian diplomatic staff at their private suite in the Happy Valley race track.

Cautioning that his urgent memo was not an attempt to whitewash or stop the investigation, Lagimodiere wrote;

"I can guarantee he (the ambassador) will be screaming (at) the highest political levels," the memo stated.

Another RCMP liaison office letter marked 'secret' and addressed to the Director of Foreign Services states that in addition to 'an evening at the racetrack' function hosted by the Pong family, the Pongs also splurged on a 'going' away dinner and dance at the Aberdeen Marina Club for a number of Immigration officers who were transferred during summer rotations.

"From general discussions with Mission personnel, other events have been hosted over the years," the memo said.

"In Hong Kong, it is a way of life for the legitimate Hong Kong society and the Triads to ingratiate themselves with charitable organizations, foreign missions and government officials." The memo pointed out that Macau casino king Stanley Ho and Hong Kong tycoon Cheng Yu Tung, both of whom have extensive business and property holdings in Vancouver, are often guests of the Canadian diplomatic mission.

"These subjects are known to be associated to many documented triads however, one has to be objectively cautious in that guilt by association is not a crime and in addition, they have been major Canadian investors."

"It could be argued that these incidents have some potential for embarrassment especially in light of recent Government policies aimed at stopping 'triad migration'."

The letter ends by stating: "As you can appreciate, many of the points raised could place this office in a difficult position with other program personnel should the contents of this report resurface in this (Hong Kong) Mission."

In another case, an immigration consultant with Imperial Consultants was charged by Hong Kong police for fraud but Ottawa refused to send one of its officers to testify in the case.

Pleading for help to get this case going as a deterrent to stop other similar scams, exasperated mission officials in a telex to Ottawa wrote: "This is turning into an embarrassing situation for this office as it was us who asked for RHKPs (Royal Hong Kong Police) assistance and requested an investigation.

"RHKP are now refusing to continue with their case until we confirm that, we the complainant will provide evidence.

"Surely if we are serious about receiving assistance in cases involving our missions than so to are we prepared to cooperate with the investigating agency," read the telex.

Ottawa did not provide an officer and the case against the consultant died.

Ironically, the same consultant would later be photographed in a private meeting with Jean Chretien while discussing Asian investment into a hotel in the prime minister's riding, be investigated and charged for attempting to bribe two Canadian Immigration officers with C$40,000 and looked as key suspects in investor immigration fund scams.

In all the cases against the consultant, the RCMP never got their man.

The whole Hong Kong investigation came to a grinding halt after Corp. Robert Read who was handling the file felt his superiors were trying to cover-up the issue by not allowing him to proceed with certain aspects of the investigation.

After he went public in 1999 and was removed from the file, the RCMP did another investigation with a new set of officers.

This time they again stated that there was no evidence to lay charges but recommended that action be taken against some 30 Canadian embassy officials for accepting cash and gifts from wealth Chinese families.

None of the 30 were charged.

Other than minor reprimands many have been promoted within Immigration Canada and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

At least one of the officials is now an ambassador.

The Hong Kong file which now has come into the spotlight again has sparked calls for the Canadian government to hold a public inquiry, tough whistleblower legislation and the reinstatement of Robert Read as a RCMP officer.

Cpl. Robert Reads reward for going public with his concerns was "a pink slip along with harassment," Gurmant Grewal, Canadian Alliance MP said.

Brian McAdam, the embassy's former immigration control officer, praised Robert Read as a classic whistleblower, who was "someone doing his job and telling the truth, and that is a threat."

McAdam, whose reports sparked the Hong Kong probe, said investigators lost opportunities to deal with corruption issues at the mission. "There could have been arrests made, a major cleanup."

Alliance MP Darrel Stinson called for whistleblower protection while his colleague Kevin Sorenson said: "This is a very serious allegation of Liberal political interference."

Wayne Easter, Canada's Solicitor-General, denied the RCMP was pressured or there was any government cover-up. In Parliament, he called for patience while the RCMPs chief Giuliano Zaccardelli reviews the latest report on the Canadian scandal that was made in Hong Kong.