Nearly $2 million seized in a massive money-laundering investigation can be released to pay the legal bills of seven suspects, a Calgary judge has ruled.
In a written decision posted online Tuesday, Justice Nick Devlin said more than $1.8 million of “offence-related property” seized by police can be used to pay the lawyers for seven family members charged in the case.
That means Calgary lawyers Kelsey Sitar, Andrea Urquhart, Derek Jugnauth and Gavin Wolch, along with three Vancouver-based counsel, can now apply for disbursements from that money to cover their bills.
“The applicants have satisfied the court that they should be granted access to the cash and cash equivalent seized in this case,” Devlin wrote.
Last November, police announced the group, including three Calgarians, had been charged in what they called “an underground bank” for other criminal organizations.
They said more than $16 million in cash, real estate and other property was seized in their investigation into a countrywide criminal organization, which officials believe could have laundered hundreds of millions of dollars.
In his decision, Devlin noted all seven accused are members of the same extended family.
“The seven applicants are charged, on two direct indictments, with operating a ‘professional money-laundering organization’ . . . within their extended family,” he noted.
“The investigation leading to their arrest took place over many years and in multiple jurisdictions. It culminated with the seizure and detention of over $16 million in cash, deposit accounts and real property in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario.”
Devlin noted such an application is permitted under the Criminal Code, “which permits an order of restoration of property . . . for the purpose of meeting reasonable legal expenses.”
He found the suspects would have no means of covering legal bills in the complex case without access to the seized funds.
“I am satisfied this is a complex investigation that has generated large and complex disclosure, producing a prosecution that a layperson would have great difficulty mastering or defending,” Devlin said.
He noted the allegation is the professional money-laundering organization “consists of an elder couple, their respective children, and those children’s spouses and partners.”
“The Crown theory of the case, as expressed in the materials filed before the court, is that the seized assets were generated through collective money-laundering activities undertaken by the applicants and the unindicted co-conspirators.”
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While they had sought to have access to equity on real property “held in the name of unindicted co-conspirators, who are also closely related family members,” Devlin said only deposits from three bank accounts and cash seized in three police raids could be made available.
The bank accounts holding more than $1 million in deposits, $370,000 seized during the search of a Vancouver residential property and $330,000 found in an Ontario home, could be released, Devlin said.
Lawyers will now be able to apply during an in-camera hearing for disbursements.
The seven accused, Van Thi Nguyen, Van Duc Hoang, Donald Hoang, Grace Tang, Cynthia Thi Nguyen, Yuong Van Nguyen and Lien Hung Ha, are due in court Dec. 15 to set trial dates.
— With files from Michael Rodriguez
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