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B.C. real estate firm fined $156K for anti-money laundering violations

RE/MAX Kelowna previously mentioned in a B.C. government forfeiture claim against a B.C. man alleged to have participated in an international stock fraud scheme.
mission-ridge
According to a Director of Civil Forfeiture claim, this Kelowna home was bought in 2017 with transactions through RE/MAX Kelowna, which has been fined by FINTRAC for AML violations.

RE/MAX Kelowna has been fined $156,750 by the country’s financial transactions watchdog for non-compliance with the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act.

The Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) publicly released the fine Oct. 27, stating the firm, registered as Norwich Real Estate Services Inc., “failed to submit a suspicious transaction report where there were reasonable grounds to suspect that transactions were related to a money laundering offence.”

RE/MAX Kelowna owner Jerry Redman told Glacier Media the firm is appealing the penalty in federal court and would not comment further, including whether the fine is related to a transaction involving a major international stock fraud scheme.

The FINTRAC statement provides no other details of the violation.

According to an Aug. 7, 2019 claim by the B.C. Director of Civil Forfeiture, Norwich Real Estate Services Inc. accepted $101,000 from Cuatro Cienagas Inversiones Ltd. (CCIL) via unregistered virtual financial firms located in international jurisdiction, in April 2017.

Those firms were controlled by Roger Knox who operated Swiss asset management firms Wintercap SA and Silverton SA to conceal illegal securities trading.

In January 2017, CCIL was a newly incorporated Hong Kong company controlled by “one or more of” Benjamin Kirk, his wife Kayley Tyne Johnson and a Mexican resident named Carlos Gomez Brana.

Redman would not comment if Benjamin Kirk is related to Peter Kirk, one of the firm’s two managing brokers.

CCIL, according to the now-settled B.C. government claim, bought a $1.6-million property at 1214 Mission Ridge Rd. on May 18, 2017, following the transfer to Norwich (Kelowna RE/MAX). The rest of the cash went through an unnamed Kelowna law firm. All the money originated from the virtual accounts and the Swiss firms. Even more money flowed to CCIL to purchase a Big White ski resort property for $524,000 cash, on Jan. 10, 2018.

The forfeiture office successfully had CCIL, Kirk, Johnson and Brana pay it $2.15 million per an Aug. 18, 2021 consent order that forced the sale of the properties.

On Oct. 13, Knox was sentenced to 36 months in prison for securities fraud.

“Illegal pump-and-dump schemes cause financial hardship on countless innocent investors and erode the integrity of our capital markets,” stated Acting United States Attorney Joshua S. Levy.

Benjamin Kirk is facing civil stock fraud allegations from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), in relation to the far-reaching scheme that involves over a dozen British Columbians, including former lawyer and offshore shell facilitator Fred Sharp, who the commission called the “mastermind” for forming a group of co-conspirators, some of whom have been found liable for civil fraud and some who face unproven criminal allegations.

In essence, the so-called “Sharp Group” used its shell companies to conceal beneficial ownership of shares belonging to public company insiders (his so-called clients), the SEC alleged. The many networks Sharp serviced involved over 100 public companies and over $1 billion worth of trades, according to the SEC.

Sharp, of West Vancouver, also faces criminal charges in the U.S. after being found liable for US$52 million in a civil judgment he never responded to.

Sharp utilized Knox’s Swiss firms, including to move $7 million through his wife's Vancouver tennis coach, via a Marshall Islands-based company.

In 2015, the Alberta Securities Commission ruled Benjamin Kirk made misrepresentations and broke trading registration rules when promoting junior company Skymark Media Group Ltd. as a de facto director.

Benjamin Kirk was banned from trading Alberta-registered companies and also entered into a consent agreement with the SEC to pay back over $6 million in relation to his illegal activity, which also involved hidden ownership of shares.

However, it wasn’t until Jan. 25, 2021 that the B.C. Securities Commission placed reciprocal trading bans on Kirk.

Benjamin Kirk is said to have communicated with Sharp in an encrypted cellphone network as code name “Bertie.” 

The SEC claims Benjamin Kirk was one of Sharp's more "prolific" clients.

Benjamin Kirk’s last known address was in Hope, according to the SEC claim.

gwood@glaciermedia.ca