CANADA

Inside an immigration scam

PAUL KAIHLA October 2 1995
CANADA

Inside an immigration scam

PAUL KAIHLA October 2 1995

Inside an immigration scam

CANADA

PAUL KAIHLA

It sounded too good to be true—and it was. A delegation of more than 80 wealthy entrepreneurs from mainland China was coming to invest millions of dollars in Canada, and the group wanted to see Brampton, a city on the northwest edge of Metro Toronto. A delighted Mayor Peter Robertson ordered his staff to prepare a VIP reception. Everything was set for April 18, the Tuesday after Easter weekend. A caterer would lay on wine and cheese and, with dozens of local businessmen and politicians in attendance, Robertson would treat the delegates to an audiovisual presentation in the Brampton council chamber. But two hours before the group was to arrive, one of its organizers abruptly cancelled the meeting.

The Chinese delegates were not rich investors after all, a displeased Robertson and his staff learned later that week. In fact, they were participants in an elaborate alien smuggling scheme who had been charged $70,000 each for passage to North America—where they promptly went underground. “They used our good hospitality and we got burned,” says an angry Robertson. “But the country got burned worse.”

Since that episode—and after months of investigation by the RCMP—few details have emerged as to how the Chinese impostors managed to enter Canada, what happened to them, and who profited from their trip. But now, through documents and extensive interviews with many of the key players, Maclean’s has pieced together much of the story—a tale of a $5-million scam abetted by bureaucratic bungling by Canadian officials and the apparent corruption of Chinese government representatives. While operators have been smuggling aliens from China to North America for decades, police say that this was one of the most sophisticated—and spectacular—schemes that they have encountered. One RCMP source says that the main conspirators are members of a deeply entrenched international crime syndicate. ‘The operation was 100-per-cent triad,” said the source, referring to the term for Chinese organized crime families. “Some of the principals have been smug-

gling people to North America for 20 years.” For his part, the Toronto-based immigration and financial consultant who helped organize the trip—and who requested anonymity—accuses police and immigration authorities in Toronto of incompetence. The organizer insists that he realized the delegates were bogus only after they had arrived in Toronto. But when he noticed that several of the visitors had disappeared, he says, he called the authorities and asked

them to detain the rest of the group. “I told them what was going on, but no one came to help,” he says. “These people were allowed to escape, and that didn’t have to happen.” RCMP Sgt. Joe Shaw, who is overseeing the investigation, says that the officer who took the call did not understand the gravity of the situation. “There was a miscommunication of what was transpiring,” he says.

The origins of the case lie in a trip that the Toronto consultant made last October to Hong Kong and the neighboring Chinese province of Guangdong, accompanied by Toronto lawyer George Argiris. There to explore business opportunities, the men were introduced to two young capitalists on the rise, Ying Yin Au and Lunke Wang. The Chinese businessmen set about impressing the Canadian visitors. Wang introduced the Torontonians to his father, a senior army commander, and arranged a military escort for part of their trip. ‘We were treated like royalty,” recalls the Toronto consultant.

The four men discussed a partnership

to organize business tours of Canada for Chinese entrepreneurs. Au and Wang said that there were thousands of millionaires interested in learning about Canadian technology and investment opportunities. If the Torontonians could obtain the entry visas, Au and Wang could get the clients. What attracted the Torontonians was the prospect of making money from the business tours. “I thought I was going to be bringing in $100,000 a month organizing these tours,”

the Toronto consultant says. To get things started, he returned to Guangzhou with Argiris in November. Au and Wang introduced them to an agent they had retained to recruit clients. A shadowy figure named Zeng Tai, the agent claimed to own a large petrochemical concern in northern China. He presented a handwritten list of 98 socalled investors with details of each of their companies. The Chinese partners said they would charge the clients a fee, from which the Torontonians would receive $3,600 for arranging each visitor’s visa to Canada. That sum would also have to cover the delegate’s airfare and Toronto expenses.

To get the visas from the immigration office of the Canadian High Commission in Hong Kong, the organizers submitted the required paperwork showing that each of the delegates had prepaid return airline tickets, and funds to cover their Canadian hotel accommodation. They also included the Toronto itinerary they had arranged for the group, and a copy of a letter from Alan

More than 80 Chinese posed as investors to be smuggled into Canada

Wang, a consultant in the business immigration division of Ontario’s ministry of economic development and trade, confirming that the delegation was booked for a business seminar on April 21. Finally, the Torontonians passed on the group’s passports that Ying had given them—all issued in the province of Yunnan and stamped with exit visas from the Chinese government.

The Hong Kong immigration office asked its counterpart in Canada’s Beijing embassy to do a record check on the applicants, but a senior immigration official in Ottawa says that the office was likely too overworked to do a thorough job. On the basis of the documentation, Angelique Marcii, supervisor of the Hong Kong immigration office visitors’ unit, issued 90 visas, includ-

ing several for the tour leaders, on April 5.

Neither the Toronto sponsors nor Mardi had met—or screened—even one of the delegates. Had they investigated, they would have been shocked to learn what had taken place. According to information later uncovered by police, Tai had recruited the clients

by travelling through the south coast province of Fujian, selling passage to North America for $70,000, half of which was paid to him up front, the rest to be paid when they arrived in Toronto. The delegate names that he gave to the Torontonians—and the Hong Kong immigration office—were all false.

Chinese law dictates that citizens can obtain documentation only from the province in which they are born, or where they are registered to live and work.

But the Toronto consultant

says that he learned, too late, that Wang had obtained the passports and exit visas in the phoney names from Yunnan by paying at least $500,000 in bribes to Chinese officials.

On April 17, 81 Chinese delegates arrived at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, along with Tai, Au, Wang and three other chaperones. After checking into a downtown hotel, Tai demanded that the Toronto sponsors cancel almost all the group’s official meetings, including the ones at Brampton City Hall and the Ontario trade ministry. Even more perplexing to the Toronto organizers was the fact that fewer and fewer delegates were showing up for group meals as the week progressed.

Charged $70,000 to enter Canada, they promptly went underground

Finally, on the fourth day, the Toronto consultant and Argiris were confronted with irrefutable proof that they had been deceived. A visa officer in the eastern Ontario border city of Cornwall called them to report that four of their delegates had been apprehended during an attempt to

cross illegally into the United States. The same morning, the Toronto consultant wrung a startling confession from one of the young male delegates still in Toronto. He was actually a Chinese peasant, and he revealed that, as with all the other delegates, relatives in both China and North America had pooled family funds to pay the steep entry fee. An American confederate of the triad bosses was stationed at a nearby Toronto hotel and arranging for each of the delegates to be ferried to the United States by veteran alien smugglers. But the young peasant now wanted to re-

turn home because the criminals

had told him that he would have to work off the unpaid portion of his fee as a prostitute in New York City—the ultimate fate of many of the young men and women on the tour. “These people had no real interest in Canada,” says the Toronto consultant. “They all wanted to go to the United States.” Outraged, he rounded up the remaining delegates and locked them into the hotel ballroom until police could arrive and arrest them. But when he called the RCMP passport and immigration detachment in nearby Milton, an argument erupted. According to the consultant, the officer who answered the phone pointed out that the visitors had valid visas for six months and had broken no law

while in Canada. The officer added that the Toronto sponsors could be charged for holding the remaining Chinese against their will, and that they should instead report the matter to the federal immigration department. “I called a supervisor in immigration,” recalls the Toronto consultant. “She said, ‘It’s a Friday afternoon, and we’re really understaffed but we’ll try to send someone.’ ”

No one came. The next morning, all but two of the remaining delegates were gone. They left behind clothing, passports, airline tickets and thousands of dollars in unpaid bills. Of the 81 delegates, only two returned to China. Police now say that the vast majority of them are in the United States, where agents from the anti-smuggling unit of the U.S. department of justice have been

searching for them with no success. The RCMP has made several appeals to Canada’s Chinese community for information about any delegates remaining in the country, but after five months not one source has stepped forward. The four delegates arrested in Cornwall made refugee claims—but now they, too, have disappeared.

Immigration spokesman Kevin Sack says that the supervisor who received the report about the disappearing delegates “acted appropriately” by not sending officers because her shift is primarily responsible for assisting police when they investigate cases such as a refugee claimant arrested for a violent crime. As for the Hong Kong immigration office, Sack said that the visas were issued in “good faith,” and that Marcil followed correct procedure. But the Ottawa official who oversees that station says that the department is reviewing those procedures. “Hong Kong was certainly embarrassed by this,” declared Brian O’Connor, Immigration Canada’s director of operations for the Asia-Pacific region. “It’s rather spectacular when you consider the number. It’s a good lesson.”

In an ironic finale, the Toronto consultant says that he returned to China in May to confront Tai and seek payment—successfully—of $50,000 owed to the Toronto partners. Tai took the Toronto man to the city of Qinghe, where he was put in a military hotel. A well-dressed Chinese man arrived in a government car bearing flags. He offered the Toronto consultant $600,000 to run another scam—this time for 60 delegates. In a sign of how high corruption runs in parts of China—and how difficult it may be for police to battle alien smuggling—the consultant says that the man was a well-known and high-ranking government leader. □