Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 9, No. 5, May 2021
By Anders Corr
Wilful Blindness How a Network of Narcos, Tycoons and CCP agents Infiltrated the West, by Sam Cooper, Optimum Publishing International, 2021, $28.95 CAD.
An investigative reporter in Canada, Sam Cooper, is at the tip of the spear, where China injects money, drugs, spies, and underage prostitutes into all of North America. Cooper provides us with a front-row seat of China’s espionage, drug supercartels, support to terrorism, money laundering, and, for a pledge of support to Beijing, campaign donations to the politicians who lurk around China’s United Front groups in Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa. Add to that investigations of trafficking in weapons. Heads of state, including Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau, are linked by the author to the nefarious characters from China who are doing this dirty business.
It sounds too crazy to be true.
But Cooper’s new book, Wilful Blindness, is nonfiction, and based on five years of his investigative reporting on the topic, and confidential sources in Canadian intelligence and police agencies. It vindicates, and brings up to date, a joint Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) report that in 1997 made many of the same claims. That report, called “Sidewinder”, was suppressed by Ottawa, which at time was trying to ink new trade deals with Beijing.
Ottawa will not be able to suppress this book, or Cooper’s reporting, and so has apparently gone into damage control with the ongoing Cullen Commission: public hearings that occurred in 2021. Cooper covered the hearings for Global News, a mainstream news outlet in Canada.
Wilful Blindness focuses on the links between Canadian politicians, and billions of dollars worth of organized crime, raked over daily by Chinese gangs that are supported by the Chinese government. According to one expert interviewed in the book, Canada’s intelligence agency recognized in the 1990s that the Chinese government “was using Chinese organized crime figures to cultivate Canadian politicians,” Cooper writes.
General Secretary Xi Jinping was in charge of overseeing Xiamen’s special economic zone that privatized state assets, and from where much of the crime originates. Former Prime Minister of Canada Jean Chrétien also makes an appearance in the book. He is reportedly linked to some of the criminals and corruption. “Assessments from the [classified] Sidewinder report that were scorned in Ottawa power circles are supported by Canadian police wiretaps,” writes Cooper. “China’s government is in fact controlling drug cartels.”
He sums up the cause of skyrocketing drug deaths and real estate prices in Vancouver as, “Gangsters, spies and industrialists covertly operating under the Chinese Communist Party.”
Cooper addresses Canada’s China crisis with details about what he calls the “Vancouver Model of transnational crime”, exploited by China’s drug kingpins, crime billionaires, and Chinese Communist Party princelings, to use gambling and real estate investments to launder millions of dollars monthly, with the casinos and government getting a ⅖ cut of the money in what appears to be an only quasi-legal operation, even from the government side.
According to Cooper’s analysis, “a man connected to Chinese organized crime had owned a portion of a B.C. Lottery casino; B.C.’s government, had been in business with organized crime; and the government was potentially involved in regulatory corruption.” Cooper documents one case in which a government official, after allowing a gang associate to purchase part of a casino, was given a job at a casino.
But the book is relevant to other global gambling capitals as well, including Las Vegas, Melbourne, and Macau, where the same illegal, and often violent, methods are turning these dens of iniquity into the battlefields of a global fight against China’s organized crime. Cooper tracks China’s crime network from Vancouver, where he stumbled onto the story as a young beat reporter, to Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Burma, Japan, Columbia, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Venezuela, and Iran. He uncovers a top Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) intelligence officer who was allegedly working for the Iranians.
Cooper describes how China’s VVIP “whales”, “smurfs”, and “loan sharks” wash billions of narco-dollars through Hong Kong, Macao, and Vancouver shadow banking networks. If you borrow $10,000 in cash at a Vancouver baccarat table from a shady-looking fellow carrying around a hockey-bag full of torn and dirty Canadian 20s, and wrapped in rubber bands rather than bank wraps, make sure your N-95 mask is snug or you might breath in some deadly fentanyl. And, you better quickly pay back the principal, plus 10% interest a week, or expect to get your legs broken, car towed, or house broken into and furniture taken as collateral. Some women sell themselves repeatedly to pay off the debts. One was found tied up and abandoned, half-naked, in a public bathroom. She was too terrified to report who had done this to her to the police.
The crime that Cooper reports goes from a low level, straight to elites in Beijing. The owner of one $17 million home in Vancouver, for example, is reportedly involved in illegal fentanyl imports and exports. His family owns $60 million worth of real estate in the area, is linked to the Panama Papers offshore banking scandal, and includes members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), an organization that promotes Chinese Communist Party (CCP) influence in China and abroad. The CPPCC controls the United Front Work Department (UFWD), which seeks to control groups in Canada and elsewhere that try to use overseas Chinese to do Beijing’s bidding.
China’s gang money is sent through regular banks as well, using fake civil lawsuits and false invoices for fake exports and imports. Some Vancouver casinos allegedly have minimum $500,000 chip purchases, and criminally “refine” shipping containers of dirty 20-dollar bills from the street trade into pick-up trucks full of hundreds, and then into clean checks that can be deposited into legitimate banks, no questions asked. Wilful Blindness explains it all (full disclosure: the publisher is my own for an upcoming book).
The government of British Columbia apparently looks the other way while it makes billions on the transactions in taxes and regulated gaming. All of this is caught on security cameras and emails, with the tacit approval of casino managers, government officials, and next to no action by the wilfully-blind Canadian government that benefits from taxes and GDP growth off the illicit trade. The thousands who die from the associated drugs and mob hits are apparently not taken into account by the pea counters in government revenue departments.
Wilful Blindness reveals how Vancouver has become a global springboard for China into the world’s most lucrative drug markets, including New York, Miami, Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. These markets are supplied by not only Vancouver, but Richmond, Calgary, Winnipieg, and thousands of mini-drug labs in homes along the border of the US that are mixing illicit chemicals into pills for onward sale.
Tens of thousands of people die in these cities every year, from drug overdoses of illegal fentanyl, opium, heroin, ecstasy, and methamphetamines imported from Burma, through Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Macau, Hong Kong, and China, by violent Triad gangs like the Big Circle Boys, Shui Fong, and 14K. The Triad gangs were started in the 17th century in China, and have fanned out globally, using a sometimes willing and sometimes unwilling Chinese diaspora, as the water in which they swim.
These gangs now make about $8 billion to $15 billion a year on the illegal drug trade, according to Cooper. Bloody gangland wars that start in Macau, where politburo members Zhou Yongkang and Bo Xilai got linked to organized crime, show involvement of China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and spill over into Vancouver, where from the suburbs, crime bosses can call in deadly hits back in Macau for a few thousand dollars a pop.
Even Xi Jinping’s cousin Ming Chai reportedly has links to organized crime. He was identified in Australia, gambling $39 million in 2012 and 2013, according to casino documents seen by the Wall Street Journal. In 2019, he was being investigated for money laundering, organized crime, and influence-peddling, according to authorities.
Mr. Chai has a business partner who runs licensed brothels. Prostitution is legal in some parts of Australia. “In 2017, Australian officials said, Mr. Chai used a company masquerading as a plastics importer to receive ‘significant’ sums of money from abroad,” according to the Journal. “The officials said the company, registered to a residential address on a quiet suburban street in Melbourne, was used by casino gamblers and suspected organized-crime figures to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars in and out of Australia during a 15-month period in 2017 and 2018.”
The drug trade and money laundering is a means for China’s ultra-rich to transfer their extra cash, from corruption and tax evasion, to safe havens abroad. Vancouver’s port is a particularly easy place for China’s elite to do its underground business, including import and export of stolen luxury vehicles, as the port has been stripped of regulations by high federal and provincial-level governments that are so eager for China’s investment dollars that they appear in chummy photos with China’s top money launderers, according to Cooper.
But China’s big crime networks are importing more than illegal cars. They imported thousands of Asian “investors” and “sex slaves”, who claimed to be “refugees”, but had fake addresses, fake jobs, and fake passports, according to Cooper. China’s organized crime in Vancouver is becoming so powerful as to have connections to China’s consul general, and to the vice president of China Poly, a Chinese state-owned weapons manufacturer. China’s consulate in Vancouver gave one of the Chinese gangsters a fake ID, according to the book.
China’s state-connected organized crime worked with Italian, Mexican, Vietnamese, Persian, Cantonese, and Hells Angels gangs in British Columbia in a process that stretched back to the 1990s. But the “state-sponsored heavyweights of northern China” gained the upper hand after 2008, according to Cooper. These state-sponsored Chinese gangs were “more corporate and connected”, and eventually eclipsed the others. “After 2015, my sources started seeing kingpins of the Chinese underground banking cartel brushing up against state actors from Iranian narco-terrorism networks,” Cooper writes. “And the Sinaloa Cartel was also in the mix. But Chinese state actors definitely ran the show, intelligence experts told me.”
The Chinese government and their gangs are also linked to corrupt Canadian cops and officials in Hong Kong and Vancouver who do the bidding of Triad gangs in exchange for red envelopes stuffed with cash. Officials at the level of mayor, premier, and future head of state, including Donald Trump, Justin Trudeau, and Jean Chrétien, are included in the story. Trudeau is caught meeting with individuals linked to the Chinese government, at “cash-for-access” events. The British Columbia premier, Christy Clark, received political donations from misappropriated funds, according to Cooper. A hedge fund that invested heavily in Great Canadian Gaming, where much of the illegal money laundering apparently takes place, lobbied politicians to mute criticism. The fund included board members who made political contributions to competing parties. The daughter of a former Conservative prime minister, Brian Mulroney, was the fund’s vice-president. A gangster’s law firm had a principal in the House of Commons who was an important fundraiser for Trudeau’s Liberal Party. And, a Chinese official had donated $1 million to Trudeau’s family foundation in 2016. A real estate tycoon who met twice with Trudeau in connection to the donation, was running Canada’s largest ever illegal casino.
One gang boss, affiliated with the PLA in Xiamen, ran a prostitution and extortion ring in a government building, and facilitated the theft of thousands of luxury vehicles, including through Hong Kong. “It was organized crime at the state level,” according to Cooper. When the boss fled Xiamen because of a falling out with the CCP, he moved to Canada and continued his trade.
Cooper reveals some information on the late Macau casino magnate Stanley Ho, who had a virtual monopoly of six casinos in the territory. His casinos, according to US regulators, had been penetrated by triad gangs. Ho owned shares, along with the Chinese government, in the corporate owner of a British Columbia bank, and was reportedly a frequent guest at the Canadian Commission in Hong Kong. He was connected to the late Sheldon Adelson, the Los Angeles casino magnate who opened casinos in Macau when Ho’s monopoly ended in 2002, and was one of the biggest bankrollers of Republican candidates in the US. Adelson’s company Venetian Sands was used by China’s link to the Sinaloa Cartel.
When Canadian police sought to make the crime networks public, they were overruled by politicians at the top. So, they went to Cooper privately, and told him the story. Cooper’s Wilful Blindness is the result: engaging, readable, and filled with action. “You finally recognize that a massive dose of history and politics as big as Mainland China itself, pressurized like a syringe through the needlepoint of Hong Kong, is bursting back at the West now,” he writes. According to one of his sources, “It’s like the Opium Wars, but in reverse.”
There are thousands of fentanyl and methamphetamine deaths a year in Canada, which is used for manufacturing and transhipment to the US, where there are tens of thousands more annual deaths. It could all end if Xi Jinping said the word. An international policing expert told Cooper, “this is all directed from inside China. At the very top, they are insulated. It’s government officials.”
Cooper wrote a news story about links between the Chinese government, and Canada’s UFWD groups, including an alleged fentanyl kingpin and loan shark who organized mass purchases of 100 tons of Canada’s PPE for export to China while Beijing was mum about pandemic risk in January 2020. The PPE was re-exported to China’s UFWD groups globally, and resold at inflated prices with political strings attached. The Canadian UFWD groups responded to Cooper’s article with a WeChat crowdfunding campaign to launch a class-action lawsuit against him. Prime Minister Trudeau finally took note. “Prime Minister Trudeau said using WeChat to fund lawsuits against Canadian journalism is ‘unacceptable,’” according to Cooper.
Otherwise, however, Trudeau appears to have ignored the problem while his party rakes in political donations and gambling revenues. I heard similar stories from my government and industry sources in the mid-2010s, about intelligence of Chinese espionage being ignored by the US government and allowed to continue. I can only conclude that business with China is too valuable, including illegal drugs that kill tens of thousands annually in the US and Canada, for our governments to protect us and our children. Let’s hope that Cooper’s ground-breaking book brings much-needed public attention to the matter. Only the public, organizing and demanding change from their politicians, will fix this problem.
Anders Corr has a BA/MA in political science from Yale University (2001) and a Ph.D. in government from Harvard University (2008). He is Principal at Corr Analytics Inc., Publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, and has conducted extensive research in North America, Europe, and Asia. He authored “The Concentration of Power” (forthcoming in 2021 from Optimum Publishing International) and “No Trespassing” (South End Press) and edited “Great Powers, Grand Strategies” (U.S. Naval Institute Press).