Yukon Theatre links to money laundering
WHITEHORSE – Kinbok Enterprises Ltd. fined under Proceeds of Crime legislation
The iconic Yukon Theatre building at 304 Wood Street in Whitehorse (Image: WN reader)
The owners of the iconic Yukon Theatre cinema in Whitehorse could have links to crime and money-laundering investigations in B.C.
The Whitewash News received the tip from a reader who says that the identity of the theatre's owners was a constant talking point during the recent Available Light Film Festival (ALFF).
ALFF is a taxpayer-funded film festival that takes place every February in Downtown Whitehorse. It runs for around 17 days and is organised by the non-profit Yukon Film Society (YFS).
In the past, the festival has been based in the Yukon Arts Centre where most of its films have also been screened.
This year, the YFS moved its festival base to the Yukon Theatre where it screened films and hosted events between February 11 to 28.
Secrets and suspicions
The Yukon Theatre had been owned by Canadian cinema chain Landmark Cinemas since 1980. Landmark sold the building in August 2021 but would not reveal who exactly had purchased it.
Three months later, in November 2021, the YFS announced that it had signed a lease to rent the theatre and hoped to carry out major renovations.
In an interview with the Whitehorse Star on November 23, the society's artistic director Andrew Connors said he was "working with the theatre’s new owners to give it a new lease of life."
On November 25, in a subsequent interview with the Yukon News, Connors refused to reveal who exactly those owners are.
Directors on the society's nine-person board are allegedly being just as tight-lipped about the new owners' identities and have kept their fellow society members in the dark.
This cagey behaviour by Connors and the board has aroused the suspicions of the YFS membership and led to rumours circulating amongst filmgoers attending this year's ALFF.
Making the YFS secrecy even more suspect is the fact that the non-profit has a strong tradition of promoting its partners and supporters.
So who owns the theatre?
According to the Yukon government's online Land Title Registry, the Yukon Theatre was purchased on August 30, 2021 by the corporation '1272545 BC Ltd.'
The corporation is represented in the Yukon by the law firm Tucker Carruthers and has its registered office address at Unit 110, 8091 Westminster Highway, Richmond, B.C.
At this exact same address, according to the Government of Canada’s Money Services Business registry search, is the registered office of Kinbok Enterprises Inc.
Kinbok is registered in B.C. as doing business in currency exchange and international money transfers.
According to the Government of B.C.'s public registry, Kinbok also does business as 'Jingbohang Virtual Currency Exchange' and 'Richmond Bitcoin.'
The transnational company has its Canadian headquarters listed at the Richmond address and its Chinese headquarters simply as "Beijing, China."
Details for 1272545 BC Ltd published on the Yukon's public Corporate Online Registry shows that it has been operating from the same registered office address as Kinbok since October 30, 2020.
In Canada, a company's registered office address is where it is legally obligated to keep all of its corporate and financial records.
The fact that both 1272545 BC Ltd and Kinbok have been sharing the same registered office for the past sixteen months means that the owners of both corporations could be the same people or have shared financial interests.
This would provide one explanation for the YFS's cagey behaviour, given that the people behind Kinbok are implicated in crime and money laundering investigations in B.C.
The building in Richmond, BC that houses the registered office of 1272545 BC Ltd, owners of the Yukon Theatre, and Kinbok Enterprises Inc (Image: Google Maps)
In September 2013, the The Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) said in a news release that it had fined Kinbok for violating Canada's Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act.
FINTRAC is a federal agency that is independent of government and reports to Parliament through the Minister of Finance, a position currently held by Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland.
The agency works with law enforcement and security agencies across the country including Canada Border Services, the RCMP and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.
According to the news release, FINTRAC assists in criminal investigations where laundered money is linked to "drug offences, fraud, tax evasion, customs and excise offences, corruption and human smuggling and trafficking."
The monetary penalty that FINTRAC imposed on Kinbok is supposed to deter its owners from engaging in activity that makes it easy to launder money through the company.
More recently, Kinbok has been implicated in the Cullen Commission; the biggest money-laundering inquiry ever to take place in B.C.
The inquiry was established on May 15, 2019 by B.C. Premier and NDP MLA John Horgan. It is is expected to deliver its final report on May 20 this year.
Heading up the inquiry is B.C. Supreme Court Judge Allen Cullen. In a statement on the commission's website, Cullen says that the inquiry's mandate is to establish facts and "make recommendations to address the conditions which have enabled money laundering to flourish."
The two year-long inquiry was spurred, in part, by reports authored by retired RCMP deputy commissioner Peter German.
A report German published in 2019 noted how muddy ownership structures in real estate markets like B.C. and the Yukon provided a “veil” to conceal money laundering.
Kinbok identified by former police officer
A total of 221 witnesses testified before the Cullen Commission between May 2019 and May 2021, including former B.C. premier Christy Clark, several former and current cabinet ministers, police officers, gaming officials and financial crime experts and academics.
One of the witnesses was Darryl Tottenham, a 28-year veteran of the New Westminster Police Department and the head of the British Columbia Lottery Corporation's (BCLC) anti-money laundering programs.
On November 5, 2020, Tottenham was questioned under oath by one of the commission's lawyers Alison Latimer.
When asked by Latimer if his anti-money laundering unit had identified money service businesses that were "highly suspicious," Tottenham answered that Kinbok was one of those businesses.
An excerpt from the Cullen Commission's November 5, 2020 transcript showing the questioning of Darryl Tottenham (File: Cullen Commission)
Crown prosecutors involved in theatre deal
If Kinbok and 1272545 BC Ltd are in any way connected or related, as their shared registered office address suggests, it will cause major embarrassment for a lot of people but especially for the Government of Canada.
This is because two of the YFS board members that signed off on the Yukon Theatre deal work for the federal government in the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC).
YFS president Leo Lane and treasurer Noel Sinclair are prosecutors with the PPSC. Their positions within the YFS, and within the PPSC, make them particularly accountable for how the society is using its public funding.
Potentially even more embarrassing for the federal government is the fact that the PPSC is one of FINTRAC's partners in identifying and punishing money launderers in Canada.
Secrecy extends to Yukon government
On November 23, the Yukon government announced in a news release that it was giving the YFS $35,000 to "assist with operations and renovations" of the Yukon Theatre.
The money came from the Department of Economic Development and was signed off on by that department's deputy minister Justin Ferbey.
The news release was highly unusual for the territorial government in that it contained no information on who the YFS is working with to renovate the Yukon Theatre.
Under democratic principles of transparency and proactive disclosure, governments in Canada are not supposed to hide details of how public funds are used or who they will benefit.
As deputy minister, Ferbey has the final decision on what information is included and not included in every news release his department issues.
The decision to omit information on this occasion suggests that the government has good reason to not draw attention to the identity of the Yukon Theatre's owners.
Creating wealth for the wealthy
On November 23, the YFS artistic director Andrew Connors said that the society was looking at fully renovating the theatre and in talks with the owners on an 11-year lease.
Questions of money laundering aside, if this deal goes through, it will undoubtedly involve millions of taxpayer dollars and huge financial gains for the owners of the Yukon Theatre, whoever they are.
By the end of an 11-year lease, the theatre owners will not only have massively increased the value of their building through publicly-funded renovations, but they will also have made a fortune in rent on a run-down building they bought in the Yukon.
According to the Whitehorse Star, the Yukon Theatre's owners have also purchased the Qwanlin cinema building on Whitehorse's Fourth Avenue.
That building could also see major facelifts paid for by the taxpayer that will help grow the wealth of private corporations and artificially drive up the value of commercial property in the Yukon, making it harder than ever for the average person to rent or buy commercial space.
Editors' note: This story was published in the 'Real News' section of our website. Facts are supported by the links provided within the story. If you have information or a tip regarding dodgy dealings by politicians, government officials, or the non-profits they fund, please consider sharing your story with us. We fully appreciate the risk of repercussions involved in speaking out and take very seriously your requests to remain anonymous.