Vancouver became a byword for money laundering, fuelled by Chinese cash. Can it flip the script?

  • A new institute devoted to anti-corruption and anti-laundering efforts seeks to repair a reputation tainted by the ‘Vancouver model’ of Chinese money smuggling
  • The project is the brainchild of Peter German, whose investigations into money laundering in British Columbia prompted outrage and a push for reforms
Dr Peter German, president of the advisory committee for the Vancouver Anti-Corruption Institute, is seen at the launch of the organisation at the University of British Columbia on Thursday, December 9. Photo: Ian Young
Dr Peter German, president of the advisory committee for the Vancouver Anti-Corruption Institute, is seen at the launch of the organisation at the University of British Columbia on Thursday, December 9. Photo: Ian Young

It is known as the “Vancouver model” – a criminal technique that turned the Canadian city into a byword for international money laundering.

The term, coined by Australian academic Professor John Langdale of Macquarie University in 2017, described a process in which launderers would simultaneously smuggle Chinese money to Canada in circumvention of Beijing’s cash export laws, while sending Canadian drug money back to gangsters’ bank accounts in China, all facilitated by British Columbia casinos, in a kind of criminal alchemy.

But now the backers of a new anti-corruption institute want to flip the script, and make Vancouver a model for anti-money-laundering and corruption compliance.


Hail of bullets kill an accused China-Vancouver money launderer – and shatter myth of a victimless crime

  • Jian Jun Zhu, shot dead in a Canadian restaurant hit, had been accused of processing more than US$165 million per year through his underground bank
  • An anti-money-laundering expert says the shooting suggested someone did not want investigations into the underground bank to proceed
A bullet hole is seen in the window of Manzo Itamae Japanese restaurant in Richmond, BC, where accused money launderer Jian Jun Zhu was shot dead last week. Photos: Ian Young and The Vancouver Sun
A bullet hole is seen in the window of Manzo Itamae Japanese restaurant in Richmond, BC, where accused money launderer Jian Jun Zhu was shot dead last week. Photos: Ian Young and The Vancouver Sun

At least seven bullets raked through the tinted windows of the Manzo Itamae Japanese Restaurant in the Vancouver satellite of Richmond, at around 7.30pm on Friday night.

The shooter fired from the northeast, at an angle almost parallel to the glass; the bullets ripped long paths through the thick pane. One round also punched finger-sized holes in the metal window frame, before tearing a 10cm (4-inch) gouge through the laminated glass at head height.

Dining on the other side of the window were accused money launderers Jian Jun Zhu and Paul King Jin. Zhu, 44, was killed. Jin, aged in his 50s, was wounded in the face.


China’s exports to keep cooling despite spike in heater sales to Europe and still-weakening yuan

  • The trade boom that China’s economy enjoyed early in the pandemic is waning, as not even the appeal of a depreciated Chinese currency can offset global demand dynamics
  • Reviving private consumption and boosting business investment are seen as crucially important, but China’s restrictive zero-Covid policy still looms large
China has seen a surge in orders for heaters from Europe as it faces an intensifying energy crisis ahead of winter. Photo: Getty Images
China has seen a surge in orders for heaters from Europe as it faces an intensifying energy crisis ahead of winter. Photo: Getty Images
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Man making $40k/year bought $32m in Vancouver real estate via CCP-linked offshore accounts

Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in B.C examined one instance in which a low-income man and his family bought $32 million worth of housing in Vancouver after transferring $114 million from largely obscure offshore accounts


The finding is part of a study is one of over 1,000 commission exhibits, and it hits on a number of vital aspects of money laundering heard during the course of the 18-month inquiry | Photo: LeslieLauren/Getty Images

A citizen of the People’s Republic of China reported average annual earnings of $40,615 to Canadian border agents yet went on to buy $32 million worth of Vancouver real estate after moving $114 million from Hong Kong-based depositors with connections to organized crime and the Chinese Communist Party, a case study by counsel for the Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in B.C. shows.

The study is one of over 1,000 commission exhibits, and it hits on a number of vital aspects of money laundering heard during the course of the 18-month inquiry, such as nominee purchases, obscure corporate structures, fraud, layering and placement of assets (particularly real estate) and links to organized crime and corruption.

Commissioner Austin Cullen heard closing submissions this month and is expected to submit a final report in December, with findings and recommendations that could include real estate regulations and anti-corruption measures.

The anonymized study describes a family affair of suspected money laundering. The ‘Man’ utilized his ‘Wife,’ ‘Child’ and ‘Mother’ to move funds from Hong Kong-based depositors, or so-called “money changers,” and into luxury homes in Vancouver as well as at least one Bahamas-based shell company.


The Man came to Canada in 2006 with total declared family assets of $1.25 million but became subject of a deportation hearing under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act in 2016. A number of reports to the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), the national financial intelligence agency of Canada, seemed at odds with his declarations. Documents in the study also show the Man was listed by Interpol as being wanted for bribery. The immigration proceedings are now sealed, according to commission counsel.

Between April 2006 and November 2014, the Man and his family members received about $114 million from Hong Kong. Much of the money moved through so-called ‘Company A’ – an investment holding company listed in the Bahamas and beneficially owned by the Mother. The company held $34.6 million in three accounts. Documents also show the Wife (listed as “homemaker, unemployed and CEO”) ordered transfers from institutions listed in Switzerland, China, Singapore and Canada.

FINTRAC reports showed the money moved in 60 separate electronic fund transfer reports, seven large cash transaction reports and just two suspicious transaction reports.

The Man and the Wife bought their first home in Vancouver for between $2.0 million and $3.0 million, according to the study (exact details are redacted). The Child, listed as a student, then bought a $14 million home in 2012. The Man bought a second home, for at least $15 million in 2016 – the same year the Child bought a second property in the $1 million to $2 million range. The properties were tied to one another via mortgages and names on land titles.

It’s unclear where the other money went.

It was in December 2011 when the Man and four Hong Kong-based depositors were subject to two suspicious transaction reports to FINTRAC by UBS Bank (Canada), after about $7.5 million was moved to family members in 10 separate transactions. The Mother had explained to the bank the transfers were the result of the partial sale of her property in China. However, the Man, who held power of attorney for the Mother, wasn’t able to produce the land title records and UBS asked them to take the money out of their accounts.

Counsel examined the FINTRAC reports and issued summons to 11 Canadian banks or financial institutions for details on four specific depositors.

The summons show the four depositors moved $166.9 million total into B.C. accounts registered to five major Canadian banks between 2009 and 2020. The study further examined those four specific depositors in further detail using open source material.

Overall, the commission found limited open source information about these depositors, despite the large amounts of cash flowing into B.C. One operated in an obscure building belonging to an auto repair shop.

“Almost no information is available about these companies online,” the study states in reference to two of the depositors.

However some arms-length information on the others was gleaned from public records.

Depositor Hing Wah China + HK Renminbi Exchange Co., which made the most deposits to B.C. accounts, was found to have shareholders named Fang Jinghua and Hing Wah. Those two were accused of operating an underground bank in a Chinese court dispute but were determined innocent of the allegation. Fang, who owns a number of Hong Kong businesses with his family, has also faced charges of assault and criminal damage. 

A business associate of theirs is Fong Siu Lok, who is a co-shareholder of jewellery shops with the “Fang Family.”

“Lok has a somewhat higher public profile than other Fang Family members. He became head of the Hong Kong Lion’s Club in 2017, and in 2011 and 2012 was one of Hong Kong’s delegates to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress (“CPPCC”) of Fengkai, a region of Guangdong just north of Hong Kong,” the study states.

The CPPCC is a branch of China’s foreign influence program, the United Front Work Department, according to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

The commission goes on to detail some of the connections Lok has, including to a woman named Szeto Yuk Lin – a “gaming tycoon widely reported to have close connections to organized crime, particularly Wan Kwok-koi, a.k.a. Broken Tooth Koi, a leader of the 14K triad,” the study found.

“In 1997, Wan ordered a hit in Vancouver against Lai Tong Sang, an alleged leader of the rival Shui Fong triad. Wan was sentenced to prison in 1999, and after being released in 2012 is alleged by the United States Treasury and others to have continued to conduct criminal activities,” states the study.

Likewise, the commission has heard testimony about alleged Chinese transnational organized criminals operating in concert with local gangs and using B.C. casinos as a means to launder drug proceeds by loaning cash to gamblers. 

Cullen may also weigh in on his views of foreign capital impacting the Vancouver real estate market and to what extent Canadian laws mitigate any risks of that money being from criminal activity.

Cullen heard broadly from experts that it is difficult to pinpoint the exact quantity of money laundering in real estate.

Conservative estimates from a report from professors Maureen Maloney, Tsur Somerville and Brigette Unger, titled Combatting Money Laundering in BC Real Estate, indicate there was $5.3 billion laundered into B.C. real estate in 2018 alone, thus leading to an increase in real estate prices.

In closing submission, the B.C. Real Estate Association, which represents the interests of real estate agents, downplayed the report as “speculative” and that “there has been a conflation in the public discourse surrounding money laundering and foreign investment in real estate.”

Last November, the B.C. government launched a beneficial-ownership registry for residential property. As opposed to simply naming a person on a land title record, companies, business entities or individuals with an interest in residential land will need to file a transparency report by November 30, 2021. The government claims it has enforcement officers and says providing false information carries a maximum penalty of 5% of the property’s value. 

The province states it is consulting with stakeholders on establishing a beneficial ownership registry for B.C.-registered corporations. The Canadian government has committed to doing so as well, but on the federal level.



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A man accused of paying bribes in one of China's biggest-ever military corruption scandals allegedly funneled at least 114 million Canadian dollars into banks in that country before investing more than CA$32 million in luxury Vancouver real estate.

Key Findings

  • Chinese property developer Chen Runkai transferred at least CA$114 million allegedly derived from corruption into Canadian banks.
  • The money allegedly came from a major Chinese military corruption case that landed a lieutenant general with a suspended death sentence.
  • Chen Runkai changed his name from Chen Zijun after China issued an international arrest warrant in relation to the case.
  • Both Chen and his daughter are fighting in court for Canadian citizenship after immigration authorities rejected their applications.
  • Through his lawyer, Chen denied the corruption allegations and said his land deals were clean.

Before moving from China to Canada in 2006, Chen Runkai told immigration officials that he made at most 41,000 Canadian dollars a year. His wife, he said, was employed as a clerk.

Despite their modest incomes, a series of money transfers poured CA$114 million into the Chen family’s Canadian bank accounts a few years later.

Chen, it turns out, is wanted for arrest by the Chinese government on charges of bribery for his alleged role in a major corruption scandal involving a senior military official, OCCRP and the Toronto Star have learned. Now, he’s fighting to stay in Canada, where his family has two mansions in Vancouver overlooking the Pacific.

He is the owner of a Tudor-style home with mountain and ocean views he purchased in 2016 for CA$15.6 million. It sits a few doors down from another mansion his daughter purchased in 2012 for about CA$14 million — without a mortgage — when she was 25, while listing her occupation as “student.”

Until now, Chen has been unknown to the public and referred to only as “Person A” in a case study by a British Columbia commission tasked with examining overseas money laundering in the province, and its links to surging property prices.

The Chen family’s investments in Canada add to mounting concerns about illicit overseas money flowing into the country’s overheated real estate markets, helping push already sky-high housing costs out of reach for many Canadians.

Amid public debate about billions of offshore money laundered through real estate in Vancouver — one of the world’s most expensive cities to own a home — the British Columbia government formed the Cullen Commission in 2019 to look into the issue. It is expected to deliver its final report to the government in June.

The Cullen Commission’s case study is heavily redacted and makes no reference to Chen, but OCCRP and Toronto Star reporters used publicly available documents from Canada and China to piece together his identity, along with that of his wife and daughter.

Finding Chen

Although it was anonymized, documents included in the case study left some clues to the identities of Person A, his wife, and his daughter. Here’s how reporters connected the dots.


Through his Toronto lawyer, Chen said he had never been involved in corruption and that his money was earned legally through property development in China before being brought to Canada.

“It’s obviously very stressful to be in the situation that he’s in,” said the lawyer, Lorne Waldman. “But he believes in the legal system in Canada.”

Court documents about Chen’s case to stay in Canada have been sealed. But a Federal Court judgment relating to his daughter reveals that Chen is fighting charges including “misrepresentation” to Canadian immigration authorities, and “organized criminality.”

Aerial view of mansion with tennis court
Credit: Darryl Dyck for the Toronto Star/OCCRPChen Hanying bought this mansion, with a tennis court, in Vancouver in 2012.

‘Strong Indicators’ of Money Laundering

The federal government has been quietly analyzing the source of Chen’s wealth through documents dating back to before he arrived in Canada in 2006 through the now defunct Immigrant Investor Program.

Chen told authorities that he and his wife had amassed CA$1.26 million to bring into Canada. But from 2010, far more money started moving into Chen family bank accounts in Canada.


The amounts cited in this story are denominated in Canadian currency, which has fluctuated significantly in relation to the U.S. dollar. In January 2010, 114 million Canadian dollars were worth $108 million. That figure rose to $115 million in 2013 before declining to $90 million as of January 2022.

It started with CA$15.1 million sent from four different companies in Hong Kong and mainland China, documents in the case study show. Millions more followed. Money was sent through offshore companies in tax havens and an underground banking network of companies and Hong Kong currency exchanges, some with connections to organized crime, according to the case study. By the end of 2014, the Chen family had moved over CA$114 million into Canada in this way.

An anonymized analysis from the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (Fintrac) contained in the Cullen Commission case study set out details of multiple transfers into a Canadian account held by Chen’s mother — referred to as “Person D” in the documents — over which Chen had power of attorney. The money was transferred in smaller chunks, the transaction records show.

The Fintrac analysis said the transfers could be a sign of financial crime: “The discrepancy between the funds they had available and the volume of subsequent transfers to Canada is a significant indicator for money laundering activity.”

The analysis cast doubt on the source of Chen’s wealth, noting that he had refused to supply information, and it raised red flags about the nature of the transfers into Canada.

Although the Chen family’s money moved through five major Canadian banks, only one of them, UBS Bank (Canada), flagged the conspicuous transfers as suspicious. The volume of transfers in such a short time had the hallmarks of a money laundering technique called “layering,” in which “complex layers of financial transactions are used to obscure the source of the ownership of funds,” according to a report filed by UBS Canada flagging some of Chen’s 2011 transactions as suspicious.

UBS asked the Chens about the source of the funds. Clear answers never came, and the bank reported the transactions to federal authorities and closed the account.

But the family had little trouble finding other Canadian banks to accept ongoing flows of tens of millions of dollars as late as 2016. The documents show the money arrived in accounts the Chen family held in many of the country’s large banks, including CIBC, Royal Bank of Canada, HSBC and Bank of Montreal.

When asked for comment, all the banks issued written statements saying they could not speak about an individual client, but have strong commitments to detecting and reporting suspicious financial transactions.

“It seems to me there … are strong indicators of money laundering,” said Mary-Jane Bennett, a former criminal lawyer in Vancouver who was recently commissioned by Toronto’s Massey College to investigate and write a report on money laundering, who reviewed the documents uncovered by reporters. “This is a very strong case.”

A Hong Kong money exchange
Credit: Cullen CommissionA Hong Kong money exchange connected to one of the companies that sent funds to Chen in Canada.

The Cullen Commission also mentions money sent from offshore tax haven firms, and includes an image of a Hong Kong storefront currency exchange connected to a company that transferred money to Canada.

“As occurs in pretty well any money laundering case, you’ve got shell companies…built for one single purpose and that is to launder funds,” said Bennett. “Their whole purpose is to create a sense of legitimacy.”

And legitimacy is a key reason Canada is a routine target for money laundering, she says.

“We’ve got these highly regarded banks so if you get it through one of those banks, you’ve got a pretty good wash of clean money.”

Aerial view of Tudor-style mansion in Vancouver
Credit: Darryl Dyck for the Toronto Star/OCCRPChen Runkai bought this Tudor-style mansion in Vancouver for almost $16 million in 2016.

Alleged Bribes in China

The Fintrac report shows the Chen family didn’t want to explain where all this money was coming from. When a bank official asked about the source of their funds, Chen’s mother said the funds were proceeds of a land sale in China, but could provide no details.

When they turned to her son for more information, Chen “was unwilling to provide any satisfactory documentation confirming legal title over the land in [location redacted], or in relation to any land sale transactions.”

But OCCRP and the Star have uncovered the alleged source of the Chen family’s wealth. The money appears to have come from land deals involving Gu Junshan, a Chinese lieutenant general who was handed a suspended death sentence in a high-profile corruption case in 2015.

Chen was named in a 2014 open letter in Chinese addressed to “all military commanders and fighters,” which excoriated Gu for corruption. The author of the letter was anonymous, but it circulated widely online and was referenced in state-backed media. It alleged that Chen paid large bribes to Gu to acquire 100 hectares of land near a former military airport in Shanghai that was part of a development project overseen by Gu.

“During the course of the initial investigations into Gu, unidentified senior military officials allegedly tipped off Chen, who fled to Canada,” the letter said. “President Xi Jinping then ordered the issue of an arrest warrant, but to this day he has eluded authorities.”

The letter was cited in an article published by the pro-Beijing Phoenix Weekly magazine, which was then posted by the China Police Network, an official mouthpiece. That article called Chen a “real estate developer” who had “paid a huge amount of bribes to Gu.”

Given China’s closely controlled media and internet environment, the letter naming Chen would only have been allowed to circulate online if it had been officially sanctioned, said Eva Pils, a China expert who teaches law at King’s College London.

“There would be zero likelihood that it would survive, I’m kind of tempted to say more than a few hours, but maybe more than a few days,” she said. “If there has been no attempt to stop circulation, that’s almost like official approval.”

Chinese court and company registration documents, as well as media accounts, reveal more about Chen’s dealings with Gu. They say Chen bought and sold properties at the site of a former military airport in Shanghai that was part of a development project overseen by Gu.

The state-owned Wen Wei Po newspaper alleged that Chen was a “key figure” in the Gu bribery case. It said that, in the late 2000s, Chen obtained parcels of land near the airport for “much lower than the prevailing market prices for Shanghai land at the time,” suggesting this was due to his relationship with Gu.

A court judgment shows that a Shanghai businesswoman named Zou Yunyu then acquired the same land and between 2009 and 2013 took out a series of loans against it, totaling 889 million RMB (around US$144 million). She defaulted on the loans.

Also in 2009, payments started coming into Chen family bank accounts in Canada. The Cullen Commission mentioned two mainland China companies among those transfering funds, and corporate documents reveal that those firms were connected to Zou.

Waldman said the large money transfers coming into Canada were the proceeds of a land deal that was part of the “big development” overseen by Gu. But he said his client did not know Gu personally, had paid him no bribes, and had been caught up in a “political” case against the general.

“He didn’t do anything wrong, doesn’t know the general, and was involved in legitimate business activities,” said Waldman in a video call.

He said Canadian authorities should understand that information provided by China cannot be trusted due to the country’s notoriously corrupt legal system, which often uses evidence obtained through torture.

“I think it’s likely that the government of Canada’s interest in my client’s case occurred as a result of the Chinese government approaching them,” said Waldman.

The Canada Border Services Agency said it was unable to comment on Chen’s case specifically, but said it sometimes receives information from “foreign government enforcement agencies” about individuals seeking citizenship, and would then seek to “confirm its validity.”

Pils noted that Chen’s business activities may have been at least tacitly approved of at the time, even if he was involved in Gu’s corruption scheme.

“It seems to be such a constant feature of these deals –– taking bribes,” she said, adding that the government-controlled land tenure system “ensures a very, very high involvement of the party state authorities in virtually all major land transactions.”

Sweeping Implications

As Chen’s legal battle to stay in Canada continued to wind through the courts, he found himself the anonymous subject of the “Money Laundering Case Study”, one of more than 1,000 exhibits compiled by the Cullen Commission.

Concerns about suspicious foreign money in Canada’s real estate market reach well beyond the Chen case. Experts have testified to the Commission that real estate has also become inundated with dirty money derived from the drug trade and other crimes, as well as alleged corruption.

Aerial view looking towards downtown Vancouver
Credit: PixabayAerial view looking towards downtown Vancouver.

“By laundering illicit funds, serious and other organized criminals are able to profit from some of the most damaging crimes,” including drugs and human trafficking, violent crime and fueling the devastating opioid crisis, the Government of Canada wrote in its closing arguments to the Commission last July.

A 2020 report from the Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada found that as much as CA$113 billion was being laundered in the country every year. In all, 176 organized crime gangs – half with international ties – were fully integrated into Canada’s economy, the report says, and nearly half were involved in the cocaine trade.

The real estate sector, in particular, is “vulnerable to exploitation by criminals looking to launder illicit (proceeds of crime),” the federal government submission reads, by providing a secure, legitimate investment and a location to live and conduct “further criminal business.”

James Cohen, executive director of Transparency International Canada, which also made submissions to the Cullen Commission, urged authorities to take action against international money laundering.

“It is one of the most infuriating and awful reasons for housing prices to go up – the idea that limited housing supply is just sitting there as a safety deposit box for the funds of drug dealers and crooks and kleptocrats,” he said.

“We could add some housing supply without ever hammering a nail into a board by removing the dirty money that’s just sitting in these vacant condos and houses.”

A British Columbia government expert panel estimated in 2019 that more than CA$7 billion in dirty money was laundered in the province in the previous year alone. As much as CA$5.3 billion of that was laundered through real estate, causing housing prices to increase about 5 percent.

Two Mansions and Three Name Changes

Chen’s first known Vancouver property purchase was in 2007, when he bought a home in the upscale Shaughnessy neighborhood for just under CA$2.3 million. He and his wife were listed on the title that year as joint tenants under their former names, Chen Zijun and Qi Chenguang. They sold the house last year for CA$4.9 million.

In 2012 their daughter –– at the time named Chen Zhouren –– bought a mansion featuring a tennis court and swimming pool near the beach in Point Grey for CA$14.7 million. The British Columbia Assessment Authority lists that property as the 98th most valuable in Vancouver, now worth CA$19 million.

Two years after Chen’s daughter purchased the property, Chinese prosecutors brought a corruption case against Gu for abuses including selling off military land in exchange for bribes. The general had amassed properties and possessions that far outstripped his military salary, according to media reports. Chinese police reportedly spent two days at one of his homes, loading four trucks with luxury items, including a solid gold statue of the revolutionary communist leader Mao Tse Tung.

Gu Junshan’s luxury residence in Puyang
Credit: Imaginechina Limited/AlamyGu Junshan’s luxury residence in Puyang, Henan province, China.

China issued an international arrest warrant for Chen for his alleged involvement in the scam, which eventually got Gu a suspended death sentence, later commuted to life in prison.

In the meantime, Chen was fighting to stay in Canada. The Border Services Agency found him “inadmissible” for citizenship, but his lawyers convinced a federal judge to examine that decision. Amid this legal battle, with an arrest warrant from China hanging over his head, Chen and his family changed their names.

Titles for their properties show that in 2015, Zijun and his daughter, Zhouren, became Chen Runkai and Hanying. His wife, Qi Chenguang, switched her first name to Ruizhen. The following year, Chen purchased a Tudor-style mansion under his new name.

His daughter’s Canadian citizenship application is also in limbo, hanging on the verdict of her father’s case, according to a federal court judgment.

Documents from the case show that Hanying Chen obtained permanent residency as a dependent of her father, who had entered Canada under the federal government’s former Immigrant Investor Program in 2006. She declared having $5,000 in her possession on arrival. She noted in 2015 that she was receiving financial support from her parents, who were retired but had savings from real estate deals in China.

Waldman, who is also representing Chen’s daughter, declined to comment on her immigration case.

Although Chen and his family live in luxury, their comfortable lifestyle is tarnished by the ongoing court case and threat of deportation.

But the fact that the Chinese legal system routinely relies on torture to obtain evidence puts the Canadian government in a tricky position, said Pils, the King’s College professor. If the justice system in Chen’s home country were trustworthy, Canada could extradite him to face a fair trial, she said. “But you can’t have that when you’re dealing with China.”

“It doesn’t matter whether someone has perpetrated a completely awful crime, they still have a right not to be tortured,” Pils added.

Canada’s Department of Justice declined to comment, and the Chinese embassy in Ottawa did not respond to questions.

Legal and immigration experts agree there is little chance Canada would ever extradite Chen to face charges in China. But while he and his family await word on their citizenship in Canada, the weight of financial evidence authorities have gathered is sufficient to justify a response, says Bennett, the lawyer writing the report on money laundering.

“When you’ve got all of the indicia of money laundering, it seems to me that somebody should take a serious look at seizing their property,” she said.

Martin Young (OCCRP) contributed research. Jeremy Nuttall (Toronto Star) contributed reporting.

Fact-checking was provided by the OCCRP Fact-Checking Desk.




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Kitsilano apartment bought with casino money laundering proceeds, officials allege

Alleged money launderer Paul King Jin used a Hong Kong company to register mortgages against property he owned through shell companies, the B.C. Director of Civil Forfeiture claims.
paul jin kingAlleged money launderer Paul Jin King was shot in Richmond but survived; his associate Jian Zhu was killed, IHIT announced Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. (File photo)

A man accused of being a central figure in B.C.'s casino scandal could soon lose $10 million in real estate if the B.C. government has its say.

The B.C. government has filed a civil forfeiture lawsuit against Richmond's Paul King Jin, aiming to seize his commercial strata property at 2420 Haywood Ave. in West Vancouver and the Collingwood Garden's apartment complex in Vancouver's Kitsilano.

The July 22 claim accuses Jin of laundering proceeds of crime through the properties.

The director of civil forfeiture alleges Jin is the beneficial or "true" owner of the properties listed on land titles as being owned by two companies run through a sole director — Jin's niece Yuanyuan Jia.

The claim further alleges Jin used his Hong Kong company Everwell Knight Limited to register the mortgages and assignment of rents against the apartment complex. The mortgages, the claim states, are illegitimate and were used to launder the proceeds of crime.

"Jin has been engaged in large-scale money laundering activities …involving licensed casinos, illegal gaming houses and an unlicensed financial institution since in or about 2012," the claim states.

Despite being banned from casinos in 2012 for five years, the director alleges that "Jin and his associates were involved in 140 casino transactions totalling $23,501,456" between June 2012 and June 2015.


Between 2011 and 2014, Jin and his spouse reported a combined income to the Canada Revenue Agency in amounts ranging from $22,372 to $81,000.

They are last known to live in Richmond's prestigious River Green condo community.

Once banned from casinos, the claim states Jin allegedly established two illegal gaming houses in Richmond, wherein one generated $32 million in net profits from June to October 2015.

When gambling patrons were short on cash, Jin filed claims against them in B.C. courts. The civil forfeiture director states between January 2013 and March 2018, Jin and his spouse filed 24 court actions against borrowers seeking to recover over $21 million in loans.

Despite currency outflow controls established by the Chinese government, it's alleged Jin and his spouse used their bank accounts and their parents' accounts "to transmit large amounts of money from China to Canada as part of their money laundering and unlawful gambling enterprise."

Some of the money Jin allegedly moved went through an illegal underground bank called Silver International in central Richmond.

On Sept. 18, 2020, Silver's operator Jain Jun Zhu was killed in Richmond's Manzo restaurant while dining with Jin, who was injured by a bullet.

The business allegedly catered to local, Mexican and Chinese organized crime rings. It was allegedly integral to the so-called "Vancouver Model," wherein locally earned illicit drug proceeds were turned into assets or gambling losses and then paid back in China via Silver's network.

Despite multiple forfeiture claims against Jin, including for property in Richmond, cars, cash and seized casino chips, he has not been criminally charged. A federal RCMP investigation against Silver folded on technical errors.

Zhu's spouse and alleged accomplice, Caixuan Qin, has already forfeited over $1 million plus casino chips found in her possession.

A forfeiture claim cannot be used in criminal proceedings. It uses police information, as explained by the office's website: "To succeed in a forfeiture claim, the director does not need to prove that you were convicted of a crime. The director must establish that the property in question is either proceeds or an instrument of unlawful activity and will use the evidence gathered by the police in making its case.

"If the director establishes its case and a judge of the Supreme Court decides that property should be forfeited, the next step is for the judge to consider whether it would be in the interests of justice to order forfeiture."

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Interest rates send shivers through Vancouver B.C. real estate market


A wintry summer is brewing for B.C.’s real estate market with soaring interest rates drastically reducing buyer purchasing power while sellers clamber for yesterday’s prices. Home sales fell sharply in May while home values are declining, slowly but surely.

Multiple Listing Service (MLS) sales fell 16.3 per cent in May adding to April’s 13 per cent decline to a seasonally-adjusted 6,853 units. On an unadjusted basis, sales fell 34 per cent.

While sales remained above levels observed just prior to the pandemic and above the same-month average from 2010-19, momentum is quickly weakening. This is not surprising with fixed mortgage rates well above four per cent and at a 10-year high, while variable rates are rapidly shifting higher. With home prices up 40 per cent during the pandemic, prospective buyers face a very different market, and many have quickly been priced out of ownership. High consumer price inflation is further amplifying affordability challenges for households.

Sales declines were observed in most regions of the province. Specifically, the real estate boards of Chilliwack (-25 per cent) and the Fraser Valley (-20 per cent), which covers Abbotsford-Mission and eastern communities of Metro Vancouver, including Surrey, led the drop in sales while the rest of Metro Vancouver fell 18 per cent. Vancouver Island fell 18 percent, but remained elevated, with more modest declines in the interior and northern markets. In contrast, retiree demand and migration from Alberta continues to support conditions outside Metro Vancouver.

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Declining sales are contributing to a quick moderation in market conditions. Fewer sales and steady new listings lifted active listings in the province for a fifth straight month with inventory on the rise in most markets. Sales-to-active listings ratios remain in a range consistent with a sellers’ market, but the rapid decline suggests markets are nearly balanced, with the potential to move into a buyers’ market range.

At $980,324, the average price fell 4.7 per cent from April and marked the first sub-million-dollar reading since November. Consistent with sales, declines were deepest in Chilliwack (-4.3 per cent) and the Fraser Valley (-6.7 per cent), although average prices eroded in most real estate board areas.

After an impressive run where B.C. manufacturing sales increased for seven consecutive months, the streak came to an end in April as sales dipped 2.9 per cent from March to $5.8 billion. Both durable goods (down 1.6 per cent) and non-durable goods (down 4.5 per cent) posted weaker sales.

Key manufacturing areas such as wood products (down 5.9 per cent); transportation equipment (down 5.5 per cent); computer and electronic equipment (down 3.2 per cent); and electrical equipment, appliances and components (down 5.1 per cent) weighed down overall sales. The decline was only partially offset by a few sectors showing gains, such as food manufacturing (up 1.7 per cent), fabricated metal products (up 2.3 per cent) and sales of machinery (up 3.9 per cent).

Over 2022’s first four months, total sales remained 10.1 per cent of last year’s pace with durables (up 6.7 per cent) and non-durables (up 15.1 per cent), considerably ahead of last year’s pace notwithstanding April’s dip in activity. Manufacturing sales activity dipped across the province in May. In Metro Vancouver, sales fell 1.5 per cent and were down 4.3 per cent in the rest of British Columbia.

Bryan Yu is chief economist at Central 1 Credit Union.


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A fire in Point Grey was visible from the West End (PHOTOS)

Jun 18 2022, 10:46 am

A Vancouver fire on the West Side on Friday night was so intense that it could be seen from the West End.


According to Vancouver Fire Services (VFS),  crews arrived on the scene of a 3rd alarm residential fire in Point Grey late on Friday, June 17.

By the late morning, the fire was pretty much done, On-duty Assistant Chief Dan Nichols told Daily Hive.

“It was a pretty big structure, but when things collapse in on themselves like that, it can trap hot spots, so it could still be burning in certain areas of the fire; they’re just dealing with stuff like that so that we don’t have a rekindle,” said Nichols.

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“My understanding is that the home was under renovation, so all the dry wall’s been stripped out of it,” he said. This left the home with no fire protection.

“That’s why it burned so bad,” he said.

VFS was not able to confirm the exact address of the fire, indicating that it was at Drummond Drive and Fannin Avenue.

From photos, it appears to be a home located at 4811 Fannin Avenue, which also experienced a fire in 2016.  Today, the property is valued at $12,728,000, according to BC Assessment.

Residents in Vancouver’s West End could spot the blaze from across the water, sharing striking images on social media.




More to come…

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Vancouver west side home destroyed by fire was not approved for demolition



4812 Belmont Avenue, Vancouver. | Google Streetview screengrab

The Vancouver west side home that was destroyed by a massive fire late Friday had a city permit issued for salvage and abatement – but specifically not for demolition, according to municipal records.

The City of Vancouver database for permits showed that the house at 4812 Belmont Avenue in Point Grey was approved for the salvage/abatement permit on Jan. 25 of this year after almost three years of processing. (The application was started in August 2019.)

In the city permit, the work description showed the approval hinges on the project being “salvage and abatement ... only … to be completed under the supervision of a qualified professional.” It also specifies that “this permit does not authorize demolition, deconstruction or construction work.”

A fire engulfed the home last Friday at around 10 p.m., and social media quickly filled with videos and photos of the flames being visible from downtown and the North Shore. Fire crews said the home was unoccupied and under renovation, and the fire was brought under control by Saturday morning.


Investigators are currently looking into the cause of the fire.

Vancouver writer [and heritage buildings expert] Eve Lazarus wrote in her blog that 4812 Belmont previously belonged to former Vancouver mayor Gerry McGeer – who lived in the house from 1927 to 1947. The 6,452-square-foot home was built in 1920 and has seven bedrooms and four bathrooms, according to Zillow.

The property is valued at $15,220,000, according to the 2019 assessment.

According to the City of Vancouver, there was a building permit application under review for the property when the fire occurred. The application, made in November 2021, was for the construction of a “2 storey with cellar one-family dwelling with a detached accessory building (garage), at the rear providing 5 parking spaces, having vehicular access from Belmont Ave.”

The previous salvage/abatement permit has now also been revised to a demolition permit “due to fire,” according to the City of Vancouver website.

The applicants in all documents were listed as Canton Excavating Ltd. and an individual named Chen Lin.

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Demand for luxury homes is rising, here's what's on the market

Volume 90%
Head of Real Estate and Secured Lending at Scotiabank John Webster on a new survey suggesting more and more Canadians feel buying a home is out of reach.05:16

Survey: home ownership out of reach

Ryan Lewenza, portfolio manager at Turner Investments of Raymond James, joins BNN Bloomberg to discuss how a tight Greater Toronto Area housing market kept home prices elevated in March.05:04

Greater Toronto Area housing market kept home prices elevated in March

Updated April 12, 2022 3:46 a.m. PDT
Published April 8, 2022 4:00 a.m. PDT

The average price of a home in Canada now stands at an all-time high of $816,720. According to a new report released by real estate company Re/Max, it seems as though a key driver of growth has been the recent boom in Canada’s luxury home market.

Data revealed that 18 of the 19 local markets assessed in the report saw significant year-over-year increases in the sale of luxury homes worth more than $1 million, ranging from detached and attached units, to condominium properties.

The Greater Toronto Area and Metro Vancouver remain red-hot markets, seeing considerable growth in the sale of homes worth more than $3 million, with increases of 112.8 per cent and 75.8 per cent, respectively. Based on data gathered by the Canadian Real Estate Association, the average price of a home in both Ontario and British Columbia has recently exceeded $1 million.

Several other markets also saw notable gains in the sale of luxury homes at over $1 million year-over-year. In Barrie, Ont., 278 units were sold for more than $1 million in 2021, an increase of about 518 per cent compared to the year before. Meanwhile, Saint John reported the sale of 15 units above $1 million each in 2021, an increase of 1,400 per cent when compared to a single sale made in 2020.

Only one market reported a drop in the sale of homes worth more than $1 million; Charlottetown saw a 42.9 per cent decrease in sales from 2020 to 2021.

With considerable demand for luxury homes across the country, has compiled a list of Canadian properties currently on the market for at least $1 million.


(Lawrence Lu / Jerry Wang, Macdonald Platinum Marketing)

Type: House

Price: $2,888,000

Year Built: 2013

Property Size: 334 sq. m

Lot Size: 0.67 hectares

Located in the Metro Vancouver area, this European-style home welcomes its guests with six-metre ceilings over the foyer, living and family rooms. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer stunning views while allowing natural light to pour in. The luxury property has five bedrooms, six bathrooms, a home office and a private media room. Its 73-foot yard and covered patio are ideal for enjoying outdoor activities all year long.\


(Kevin Arnason / Todd Simpson, Royal LePage Kelowna)

Type: House

Price: $6,249,000

Year Built: 2010

Property Size: 948.35 sq. m

Lot Size: 0.27 hectares

With its custom-built pool featuring mosaic tiling, an adjacent sports court and a sunken trampoline, this Mediterranean-inspired home is ideal for entertaining. Complete with seven bedrooms and eight bathrooms, the property spans nearly 950 square metres in total. The interior boasts sky-high 6.7-metre ceilings and luxury brand finishes, while an outdoor covered kitchen and pergola give this estate its resort vibe.


(Sona Visual and Zoon Media / Heather Waddell, Sotheby's International Realty Canada Calgary)

Type: House

Price: $4,425,000

Year Built: 2009

Property Size: 437.82 sq. m

Lot Size: 0.1 hectares

This luxury home in Calgary is an architectural marvel, with floor-to-ceiling windows that offer stunning views of nearby mountains and valleys. The open-concept kitchen comes with oak plank flooring and a central island. On the upper level is the master bedroom with a private balcony, large dressing room and closet. With three bedrooms and five bathrooms, the home also has a yoga room and wine cellar.


(Rocco Macri / Trevor Dunn, MaxWell Realty)

Type: House

Price: $1,150,000

Year Built: 1925

Property Size: 280.15 sq. m

Lot Size: 0.3 hectares

Initially built in 1925, this Edmonton luxury home has been completely rebuilt for a more contemporary look and feel. Four bedrooms and five bathrooms span across 2.5 storeys, amounting to more than 4,000 square metres of living space. The master bedroom also comes with its own balcony. Meanwhile, a loft and ensuite bathroom occupy the top floor, and a home theatre fills the lower level. The home also has its own wine cellar and vault for tasting.


(Hooman Aliary, The Agency Development Group Toronto)

Type: House

Price: $9,700,000

Year Built: 2006

Property Size: 929 sq. m

Lot Size: 0.42 hectares

Near Toronto’s Bridle Path community is this timeless luxury home with its own grand foyer and piano lounge. The gourmet kitchen comes with chef-grade appliances and a walk-in fridge, while the master ensuite features its own steam shower and boudoir. A wood-panelled grand family room also offers views of a nearby ravine. On the lower level is a wine cellar, billiard room and exercise lounge with direct access to the inground pool.


(Studio Point De Vue / Joseph Montanaro, Re/Max Action Westmount)

Type: House

Price: $7,900,000

Year Built: 2005

Lot Size: 0.09 hectares

Located in Greater Montreal, this luxury estate with stone exterior sits high on Upper Bellevue, offering extensive views of the metropolitan area below. The custom-built home has five bedrooms, four bathrooms, and a home office. An open-concept chef’s kitchen leads directly into a spacious den for easy access. The property also has an integrated double garage, as well as a landscaped garden surrounding a private pool.


(Amanda Ryan / Rob Moore, Re/Max Realty Specialists)

Type: House

Price: $1,695,000

Year Built: 2016

Property Size: 459.87 sq. m

Lot Size: 0.22 hectares

This lakeside property located on a cul-de-sac in St. John’s comes with private access to Virginia Lake. On the main floor is a great room with windows that span from the floor to its cathedral ceilings, maximizing the outdoor view. The gourmet kitchen features a large island with labradorite granite countertops, a gas cooktop and a walk-in pantry. On the top floor is a loft area overlooking the great room, as well as three bedrooms and a spa-inspired master bathroom.


(Studio Royale / David Dunn, Royal LePage Atlantic)

Type: House

Price: $3,499,000

Year Built: 2011

Property Size: 423.45 sq. m

Lot Size: 0.2 hectares

With four bedrooms and four bathrooms, this Halifax home comes with spectacular views of the Northwest Arm, a key part of Nova Scotia’s coastline. Located lakeside, the property also features its own dock, as well as a putting green. Inside, its kitchen comes with granite countertops, built-in appliances, a breakfast bar and a butler’s pantry. On the top floor is the master bedroom with a walk-in closet and private deck overlooking the water.


(Patty Campbell, Powerhouse Realty PEI)

Type: House

Price: $1,149,000

Year Built: 2020

Property Size: 389 sq. m

Lot Size: 0.17 hectares

Just a 14-minute drive from the heart of Charlottetown, this corner lot property has five spacious bedrooms and just as many bathrooms for a total area of nearly 400 square metres. The kitchen features custom cabinets, a stone backsplash, and a double sink, while the living room has a stone propane fireplace. A soaker tub and large glass shower can be found in the master bathroom, while a recreation room is found in the basement.


(Matthew Gorveatte / Larry Booker, Re/Max East Coast Elite Realty)

Type: House

Price: $1,195,000

Year Built: 2016

Property Size: 435.62 sq. m

Lot Size: 0.21 hectares

Located in Fredericton, this custom luxury home is as spacious as it is stunning. On the upper floor is the master bedroom, with access to an elevated patio with a hot tub and seating area to view the backyard. The main level features an open-concept living space with a two-sided gas fireplace separating the family room from the kitchen. An oversized sunroom overlooks the backyard, while an entertainment room and exercise area fill the lower level.

(Studio Point De Vue / Joseph Montanaro, Re/Max Action Westmount)
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Photos: These Vancouver homes for sale look like Bridgerton mansions

Is this Vancouver or the set of Bridgerton?

Binge-watched season two of Bridgerton but still craving more?

Vancouver is home to plenty of luxury estates, from modern homes to spacious mansions. If Kate Sharma lived in Vancouver, she'd definitely live in one of these Regency and Tudor mansions. 


3689 Selkirk Street

A Tudor Revival mansion for your Bridgerton dreams, complete with a carved oak grand staircase and attached coach house. Plus, the back patio comes with a beautiful rose pergola connecting to a lovely tea house at the end of the brick pathway, in case you need to throw an impromptu tea party. 

3996 Cypress Street

Sitting pretty on a tree-lined street, this New England Colonial Revival home has a grand foyer with an elegant staircase, perfect for a dramatic entrance. Tucked away in the property is a private sunken garden, for Bridgerton-themed picnics.

4468 Pine Crescent

With manicured shrubs adorning the front yard, this home has a luxurious bathroom to match the crystal chandeliers and vaulted ceilings. Plus, a custom wine cellar. 

1738 Angus Drive

This elegant mansion was originally built in 1923 (restored in 1997) and is a Bridgerton dream house. With regency accents in every room, the mansion has gardens, walkways, fountains and a pond. All that's missing is a proper regency-inspired ensemble. 

3989 Angus Drive

Chandeliers, marble tiles, and golden faucets– this posh British Tudor Mansion has a double-height foyer entrance and cross-hall living. Doesn't hurt to daydream, right?

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East Vancouver cottage of 444 square feet sells for over $1.5 million

2 of 4
  • This one-bedroom rancher at 1280 East 33rd Avenue was built in 1944.

The cottage is tucked at the back of its own lot in East Vancouver.

There’s no bigger house in front of this lodge that measures 444 square feet.


The small home at 1280 East 33rd Avenue contains a bedroom, a living room that functions as dining area as well, kitchen, and a bath.


It was built in 1944, and there’s a chance it will be replaced with a new development.

This is because the cottage was sold recently for $1,550,000.

The listing for the property noted that the site presents a “great opportunity to build a duplex in a fabulous location”.


The Straight sought the listing agent for more details about this Vancouver real estate, and will update this story when additional information is available.

The sold price equals $3,491 per square foot of the existing tiny home.

One interesting thing about this sale is that 1280 East 33rd Avenue made more money than what the property next door to the west did last year.

On May 11, 2021, the property at 1260 East 33rd Avenue sold for $1,325,000.

The house at this neighbouring site is 1,630 square feet, which means it’s about three to four times bigger than that of 1280 East 33rd Avenue.

The two homes sit on 33-foot lots.

The Straight asked longtime Vancouver realtor David Hutchinson about what he thinks regarding the two properties.

“Although one house is larger than the other, detached house sales are mostly based on land value,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson noted that assessed values of both properties are about the same.

The property at 1280 East 33rd Avenue has a 2022 assessment of $1,420,900.

That’s $1,412,000 for the 33-foot by 118.5-foot lot, and $8,900 for the cottage.

The property at 1260 East 33rd has a 2022 assessment of $1,469,000.

This is broken into $1,409,000 for the 33-foot by 117.7-foot lot, and $60,000 for the rancher with basement.

“What a difference a year makes: the smaller house sold at a higher price because the market had gone up quite a bit,” Hutchinson said.

This property next door at 1260 East 33<sup>rd</sup> Avenue sold in 2021 for $1,325,000.This property next door at 1260 East 33rd Avenue sold in 2021 for $1,325,000.

The Sutton Group-West Coast Realty also noted that 1280 East 33rd Avenue is the smallest detached house he’s ever run across in Vancouver.

“I don't know the complete history of the 78-year-old home, and whether it was always that way, or the structure at the front of the property was removed at some time,” Hutchinson said.

“But in any case,” the realtor continued, “it's absolutely amazing that a detached house like this even exists in the city.”

Another interesting thing is that 1280 East 33rd Avenue sold on the same day as the property at its east side, 1294 East 33rd Avenue on March 29, 2022.

The property at 1294 East 33rd Avenue has a 33-foot by 118-foot lot, and a 2,443-square-foot house with three bedrooms and two baths.

This particular Vancouver real estate sold for $1,750,000.

Its 2022 assessment is $1,454,100, which is comparable to 1280 East 33rd Avenue and 1260 East 33rd Avenue.

This adjacent property at 1294 East 33<sup>rd</sup> Avenue sold on the same day as 1280 East 33<sup>rd</sup> Avenue for $1,750,000.This adjacent property at 1294 East 33rd Avenue sold on the same day as 1280 East 33rd Avenue for $1,750,000.

It’s also interesting to note that based on tracking by real-estate site, the sellers of the three properties have one listing agency, Stilhavn Real Estate Services.

Here’s an aerial look at these properties.

The cottage at 1280 East 33rd Avenue is sandwiched by 1260 East 33rd Avenue (left) and 1294 East 33rd Avenue.The cottage at 1280 East 33rd Avenue is sandwiched by 1260 East 33rd Avenue (left) and 1294 East 33rd Avenue.GOOGLE
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Sales of luxury condos are up in Vancouver. Here's a look at what's on the market from $1M to $50M

A bathroom in a condo at 1480 Howe St. is seen in an image from a listing posted on Realtor.caA bathroom in a condo at 1480 Howe St. is seen in an image from a listing posted on
Published April 14, 2022 11:37 a.m. PDT

The latest report on luxury real estate in Vancouver suggests the only housing type seeing an increase in sales so far this year is condominiums.

According to data from Sotheby's International Realty, the number of condos sold for more than $1 million was up nearly 30 per cent in the first quarter, when compared to the same period in 2021.

Nearly as many condos in that category were sold as $1-million-plus houses, and when taking into account the cost of detached homes in Vancouver, it shows an increased interest in luxury properties.

According to Sotheby's, 559 condos sold between January and the end of March in the region, compared to 599 houses.

A single-family home purchased for around the million-dollar mark may not be much in the city, but a million-dollar condo is still somewhat impressive, whether in terms of location or amenities.

Here's a quick look at what a luxury real estate budget can buy in the city – whether that's $1 million or $50 million – based on hundreds of listings posted on Given supply issues noted in most areas of the region's real estate market, it's possible that the listing prices are a ways off what condos are actually selling for.

Coming in at $1.009 million, this one-bedroom, one-bathroom downtown condo is actually priced a bit below the average cost of a residence in the province, if including all housing types. 

The listing boasts engineered hardwood, over-height doors and windows, expensive appliances and a large outdoor space, as well as "spectacular views."

Further south, a buyer with a bit of cash could call this one-bedroom, one-bathroom condo on West King Edward Avenue home.

Listed at $1.02 million, the condo in Vancouver's West Side is in a 55+ building, and comes with a den, high ceilings and lots of windows, as well as a patio. Residents of the building have access to an oxygenated infrared sauna, hydrotherapy tub, theatre and rooftop patio, as well as what the listing agents call an "Asian & Western style restaurant." 

A buyer willing to pay an extra $9,000 could find themselves in a two-bedroom-plus-den unit with views of Stanley Park, English Bay and the North Shore Mountains. 

The seller is asking $1.028 million for the apartment in a building that allows pets and rentals, and includes access to a gym, sauna and guest suite.

Spending around $1 million buys less in some neighbourhoods than others. There were few options in the Kitsilano area over that mark, but this two-bedroom-plus-den on West 4th Avenue can be had for $1.099 million. 

While it does have new floors and baseboard heaters, as well as four parking stalls, it does not appear to have been recently renovated beyond that. The kitchen and fireplace in the 1990s condo appear dated, if not original, as does the décor in the bathrooms.

The price tag seems mostly to be tied to the proximity to Kits Beach and the neighbourhood, rather than the unit itself.

Further south, a buyer willing to spend $2.78 million could find themselves on a patio overlooking the Fraser River. 

This just-built penthouse condo has three bedrooms, three full bathrooms and a powder room, as well as a "gourmet chef kitchen," high ceilings, two parking stalls and two storage lockers.

Expanding the budget again to above $4 million yields fewer options, but more luxurious accommodations.

One of the homes in that category is this penthouse located near the University of British Columbia, listed at $4.298 million.

The private rooftop terrace alone is larger than many condos at 1,122 square feet, and it comes with walk-in closets, a "European gourmet kitchen," and high-end appliances.

Those willing to spend more than $10 million only have eight options on, nearly all of which are downtown.

Among them is this three-bedroom, four-bathroom penthouse on Howe Street, which appears to come with a custom Fazioli piano in its "grand salon." 

The listing boasts "thoughtfully laid out floor plans" as well as panoramic views of the city, high-end appliances and finishes and a dressing room that realtors claim feels "like your own private boutique." It too has a large rooftop terrace, this one including an outdoor kitchen, fire pit, hot tub and elevator.

The condo is listed at $12.88 million.

And someone with a lot of cash to spare could move into this penthouse condo in Coal Harbour, listed at $36.9 million. 

Situated at the top of the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel, the four-bedroom condo boasts, as described by the listing, "endless postcard views of the water, mountains and city."

It has two floors, "soaring" ceilings, a private rooftop deck, a gym and yoga room, a built-in entertainment centre and more.

The interior of a penthouse that realtors say is Canada's most expensive condo listing is pictured. (Provided)

Big spenders may even be interested in what realtors say is Canada's most expensive condo listing

Listed at $49 million, the oceanfront two-floor penthouse is the largest condo in Western Canada, and includes four bedrooms, five bathrooms, sweeping views and two rooftop terraces.

All photos from unless otherwise noted.

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What came first, investor demand or a lack of supply? For many, the question of Vancouver’s affordability crisis is a lot like the old chicken-or-egg riddle. There are those who fiercely believe that local governments and homeowners have impeded the progress of new construction over the years, constraining supply and driving up prices. And then there are those who believe that a lot of the new housing that’s brought online targets investors who seek to maximize profit, turning housing into a game of real-life monopoly.

In the past few years, big money investors, also known as institutional investors, have moved into the Lower Mainland to take direct advantage of one of the world’s most lucrative real estate markets. The Vancouver Real Estate Forum, to be held this year on April 12 at the Vancouver Convention Centre, includes a panel discussion on the growing trend of institutional investors partnering with local developers. And experts from investment firms will talk on other panels that cover everything from government policies and the demand for rental housing to the affordability crisis.

“They are aligning with local developer talent that are good at sourcing opportunities and properties – the pension funds are happy to participate directly with guys like us,” said Brent Sawchyn, principal and chief executive officer of development company PC Urban Properties, and a Forum panelist. Mr. Sawchyn’s mid-size company has partnered with several such companies on projects in recent years.

He estimates that, globally, there are about a dozen markets for pension fund types to inject their money and Vancouver is a draw. They are looking for markets where population and business opportunities are on the rise. For developers, such investor partnerships have become more appealing because of the high cost involved in development.

“If you’ve got $10-billion of money that you want to put into real estate in certain markets in Canada – let’s say multifamily apartment buildings – you need to cast your net pretty broadly to be able to fill that need, to place that amount of money,” Mr. Sawchyn said.

“The pension funds and ‘near pension funds’ are all interested in participating in real estate so that they can, at the end of the day, attract an ongoing return for their investment – so they can go buy existing apartment buildings or they can participate with us, where we can build a brand new apartment building that is smack clean out-of-the-box brand new, with a lot less requirements for repairs and maintenance and then generate an attractive return for them.”

Burnaby, B.C., is eager to build, but stymied by funding gap

Supply increasing in Squamish, B.C., but home prices are, too

Some housing advocates have accused the institutional investor of pushing prices higher because they snap up old apartment stock and seek healthy returns. Mr. Sawchyn and others argue that they are serving the opposite purpose, because rental apartments would be otherwise too risky to build. For big money investors, however, apartment buildings “are very well sought after and prized,” he says.

“Without institutional investment into, say, new apartment buildings, we wouldn’t be delivering any stock.

“Some argue, ‘this is a new building, rents are expensive, it’s not affordable.’ But if we’ve got 75,000 to 100,000 people moving here a year to the Lower Mainland, we need to build housing. And without pension funds participating in housing, we are not going to have any more stock. Rents will keep going up.”

Housing advocates have accused the institutional investor of pushing prices higher because they snap up old apartment stock and seek healthy returns.DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

But it’s also true that the big investor is in the Vancouver market expressly because growth is the expectation. Some argue that anything that gets in the way, such as government regulation that restricts rents, or building heights, or costly development fees, or public engagement that stalls projects for years, for example, impedes the delivery of supply. For some, less regulation of the housing system is the most effective way of meeting the future demand.

Simon Fraser University professor of finance, Andrey Pavlov, argues that institutional investors are generally better landlords than mom-and-pop landlords, and regulations and taxes designed to cool the market only add to their financial burden, making housing less affordable. We shouldn’t be just building for the current population – we should be building to house future populations, says Mr. Pavlov.

“We have constrained population growth in the Lower Mainland because of limits on housing,” he says. “There is that additional complication that maybe you have investment demand that has nothing to do really with current population growth. In my view, we should provide enough housing even for that, and it can be done, but there is a more difficult argument to be made there. However, in the rental market it is very, very clear.”

The residential rental vacancy rate, he says, should get to at least 3 per cent to adequately supply the population.

Patrick Condon, University of B.C. urban design professor and author of Sick City: Disease, Race, Inequality and Urban Land, argues that the housing crisis stems from the commodification of land, which is no longer based on its value for housing, but for its value as a global asset class. In order to solve the housing problem, he says, you have to control the price of urban land.

“Housing is no longer valued for its utility. It is now valued as a commodity, just like gold, Bitcoin or stocks and bonds,” he said in an e-mail. “We have moved from an economy based largely on wages to one based largely on investments, with investors now in the driver’s seat. It’s extra complicated, because most of us participate in it and benefit from it, with our RRSPs and our pension fund contributions, not to mention the baby boomers benefitting from a passive gain of $4-million for their Dunbar home.”

Developer David Fullbrook says that he’s not sure that a glut of new supply will bring prices down.

“I look at the paradigm and it has got too many opposing forces.”

There are a lot of constraints on available land, and land cost is high. He says it means that only a few major players with deep pockets can afford to play.

“By and large, it’s more the commodification of housing that is fundamentally a problem, that we just haven’t identified as being a real thing. We haven’t allowed that to happen for health care and we have allowed it to happen for housing – and now that die has been cast it’s going to be very hard to unwind that, I would guess,” he said.

Mr. Fullbrook, who has been in the industry for 30 years and spent most of his career in the U.S., partners with investors and builds mostly commercial developments in B.C. and Alberta, including some multifamily residential.

“When the collapsed in 2000, that sort of released a lot of capital and that money began to flow into commercial real estate. I’m talking globally. … When that money started to flow, it never stopped and it began to accelerate. So what you’ve got now … is really institutional capital that is driving predominantly home development.

“I think the big collapse was obviously the Liberal government’s lack of attention to housing and the value that was created for them politically by this Chinese inflow of capital, this foreign investment money that really protected Vancouver from some of the cyclical swings that were happening throughout North America.

“I always look at Vancouver investors as being rewarded for speculation. They buy property and they may over pay. They don’t really know what a downturn looks like. So there has always been money to be made, and the province is constantly trying to manipulate the system to drive or incentivize capital to behave in a certain way – and we are just too late.

“Since Expo, there has been 30 years of unprecedented demand for B.C. real estate and it doesn’t seem to be impacted by typical market swings that would make people a little more cautious, particularly the speculative venturers who don’t really add a lot of value to the process, in my own view.”

Mr. Fullbrook finds the increasing rents worrisome and is concerned about his own children’s futures. He said he just priced a 128-unit, 20-storey concrete tower at $650 buildable per foot, not including land, profit and interest to cover the financing. The means the consumer is looking at about $500,000 for a 500-square-foot condo. That’s about 10 times the average salary, compared to when he was starting out and a home might be three times the average salary. That creates a “vicious circle of haves and have-nots,” Mr. Fullbrook says.

And investors are, by necessity, driven by profit.

“We had a deal we were quite interested in, and there was an investor group that was interested in the project, and putting capital in, and what they wanted us to do was something that I just would not do. I would not undermine a community that was thriving, and in a good place, to make a quicker yield.

“That was really what they were driven by: ‘we want to make that money in three years and get it out and then get it back in.’

“I don’t judge it,” he adds. “I just recognize it as being a factor of the market, that there is an avaricious quality to investors.”

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