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Police arrest 17, seize almost $33M in Montreal-Toronto money-laundering bust

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The RCMP says it has cracked down on an elaborate international money-laundering network operated by organized-crime cells in Montreal and Toronto.

Police arrested 17 people in early morning raids in the two cities Monday, seizing more than $32.8 million in assets.

“It is by depriving criminal groups of their money-laundering networks that we will shake the very structure of organized crime,” said RCMP Supt. Martine Fontaine Tuesday at a news conference.

The network had the capacity to launder millions of dollars, she said.

Dubbed Project Collecteur, the bust involved multiple police forces and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), the RCMP said in a statement Tuesday that offered some details of their investigation.

Fontaine called the investigation extremely complex and one of the most important of its kind in Canada — one of the rare money-laundering probes that has led to gangsterism charges.

Investigators had to narrow their focus to certain people and keep track of evidence, she said, in a bid to facilitate the prosecution process and not cause delays.

“It’s thousands and thousands of documents to disclose and to caveat and to be prepared for full disclosure,” Fontaine said.

The arrests were the result of a two-year investigation launched in the spring of 2016. Those targeted were allegedly collecting money from criminal organizations in Montreal and then moving that money through various individuals and currency exchange offices in Toronto.

More than 300 officers were involved in the raids Monday morning. The RCMP teamed up with Montreal, Laval and Toronto police. (Radio-Canada)

International network

The group used an informal value transfer system with connections in Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, the United States and China, the RCMP said. The funds were then returned to drug-exporting countries, such as Colombia and Mexico.

“This procedure allowed for the laundering of significant amounts of money originating from illegal activities, including drug trafficking. The criminal organizations could thus import drugs through this network,” the RCMP said.

That network has now been identified and dismantled, according to the Mounties.

Of the suspects arrested, 10 were in Quebec and seven were in Ontario. The suspects, aged 26 to 71, are facing charges that include conspiracy, possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking and laundering proceeds of crime.

Police are still searching for these three suspects. (RCMP)

Three more suspects are still being sought by police. Police are still looking for:

  • Francisco Javier Jimenez Guerrero, 35, address unknown.
  • Victor Vargotskii, 56, of Montreal.
  • Frederick Rayman, 71, of Unionville, Ont.

The names of those arrested are:

Quebec cell

  • Mohamad Jaber, 51, Laval.
  • Kamel Ghaddar, 39, Laval.
  • Eric Bradette, 36, L’Assomption.
  • Sergio Violetta Galvez, 43, Laval.
  • Alexei Parasenco, 26, Montreal.
  • Mario Maratta, 64, Sainte-Sophie.
  • Sorin Ehrlich, 62, Montreal.
  • Gary Maybee, 57, Austin.

Ontario cell

  • Nader Gramian-Nik, 56, Vaughan.
  • Tania Geramian-Nik, 28, Vaughan.
  • Sahar Shojaei, 45, Thornhill.
  • Thomas Hsueh, 47, Thornhill.
  • Mohammadreza Sheikhhassani, 55, Richmond Hill.
  • Shabnam Mansouri, 38, Maple.

During the investigation and the searches, police seized drugs including cannabis, cocaine, hashish and methamphetamine, with a market value of close to $2.2 million, the RCMP said.

The RCMP say officers seized cannabis, cocaine, hashish and methamphetamine, for a market value of close to $2.2 million in Monday’s raids. (RCMP)

Bank accounts and money in Canadian and foreign currencies were also seized, for a value of $8.7 million.

The CRA seized six properties valued at about $15 million, and the RCMP seized property estimated to be worth $7 million.

Clandestine swaps in parking lots

RCMP Sgt. François-Olivier Myette said there were two “major organizations” operating — one in Toronto and the other in Montreal. 

He said the cash was moved in suitcases, duffel bags and car trunks.

The RCMP conducted surveillance operations, monitoring secret transactions in parking lots and elsewhere, capturing everything on video.

The RCMP says bank accounts and money in Canadian and foreign currencies valued at $8.7 million were seized. (RCMP)

The suspects sometimes didn’t know each other, he said. They would identify each other during these transactions by using a predetermined token number — often a serial number on the cash.

The cash transactions involved between $500,000 and $1 million at a time. The suspects would pick up bags of cash in Toronto and then release an equivalent value, mainly in Dubai, he said.

“It’s like if you take money from your left pocket and you exit it from your right pocket,” Myette said. “That’s the way it operates.”

Stéphane Bonin, director of criminal investigations for Canada Revenue Agency, left, RCMP Supt. Martine Fontaine and RCMP Sgt. Francois-Olivier Myette, right. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

50 CRA investigators

Stéphane Bonin, director of criminal investigations for the CRA, said 50 CRA investigators were involved in the operation in both Montreal and Toronto.

“Tax evasion and the underground economy both in Canada and abroad are priorities of the Canada Revenue Agency, as well as other tax administrations around the world,” he said.

“Results like those reported today are made possible thanks to our tight collaboration with national partners such as the RCMP, as well as international partners around the world.”

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List of Tourist Attractions Open Now in Ottawa

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With Ontario now in Step 3 of 2021 three-step plan for reopening, museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to reopen with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.

Here is a list of Ottawa attractions you can visit starting July 16th.

Do remember to wear masks and buy tickets in advance.

Parliament Hill

Parliament’s Centre Block and Peace Tower are closed for renovation.

You can join for tours of the Senate of Canada Building (2 Rideau Street), House of Commons at West Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill, and East Block at East Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill.

When: Grounds open; guided tours of Parliament are suspended through the summer of 2021.
Where: 111 Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa

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Ottawa performer leapfrogs from gymnastics to Broadway to TV

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A new AppleTV+ series set in a magical town that’s stuck in a neverending 1940s musical includes a pair of Ottawa siblings in the cast. 

Warren Yang and his sister, Ericka Hunter, play two of the singing, dancing residents of the village portrayed in Schmigadoon!, a small-screen series that takes its cues from classic musicals like Brigadoon, Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music, and skewers them with the offbeat comedic mastery of Saturday Night Live. 

In fact, you’ll recognize many of the names from SNL, starting with executive producer Lorne Michaels, creator of the late-night, live-comedy sketch show. Schmigadoon! also stars SNL cast member Cecily Strong and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who hosted SNL in May. They play a New York couple who get lost on a hike and stumble into a strange town where everyone sings and dances. 

For Yang, a relative newcomer to show-biz, the series marks his television debut. For Hunter, the younger of his two older sisters, it’s the latest in a career path that began with dance lessons as a child more than 30 years ago. She attended Canterbury High School, Ottawa’s arts-focused secondary school. 

“Her dream was always to perform,” said Yang, 34, in an interview. “But that was never the path I thought was an option for me.” 

While his sister studied dance, Yang did gymnastics. He was an elite gymnast throughout his youth, ultimately leaving Merivale High School at 16 to train in Montreal, finishing high school through correspondence courses. He was a member of the Canadian National Team and received a scholarship to study at Penn State, majoring in marketing. 

A few years after graduation, Yang was working at an advertising agency in Toronto when he got a call from a Manhattan number. To his astonishment, they asked if he would be interested in auditioning for a Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

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COVID-19: uOttawa to require vaccination for students living in residence

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Vaccination will be mandatory for students who want to live in residence at the University of Ottawa this year, with proof of vaccination and at least one dose required before move-in, or within two weeks of doing so if they can’t secure a shot before arriving.

Those who can’t receive a vaccine for “health-related reasons or other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code” will be able to submit a request for accommodation through the university’s housing portal, according to information on the university’s website.

Students with one dose living in residence will also have to receive their second dose “within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health.”

People who haven’t been granted an exemption and don’t get vaccinated or submit proof of having done so by the deadlines set out by the school will have their residence agreements terminated, uOttawa warns.

“Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most (effective) means of protecting people and those around them,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by uOttawa’s director of strategic communications, Patrick Charette.

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“It is precisely for this reason that the University of Ottawa is requiring all students living in residence for the 2021-2022 academic year to be fully vaccinated. The University recognizes that some students may require accommodations for a variety of reasons and will be treating exceptions appropriately.”

Faculty, staff and students are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, the statement notes.

“Ensuring a high vaccine coverage in all communities is critical to ensuring an ongoing decline in cases and ending the pandemic. This will be especially important with the return of students to post-secondary institutions in our region in the fall of 2021.”

Neither Carleton University nor Algonquin College is currently mandating vaccination for students living in residence, according to the websites for both schools. But uOttawa isn’t alone in its policy – Western University, Trent University, Durham College and Fanshawe College have all implemented similar requirements. Seneca College, in the GTA, is going even further, making vaccination mandatory for students and staff to come to campus, in-person, for the fall term.

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