Many Haitians fear for their safety and that of their family as their country slips into anarchic violence after the assassination of their president. But not Haitian Senator Rony Célestin and his family
Courtesy of the Canadian government, they are ensconced in the mansion pictured above. Located in the toniest of tony areas in Quebec, the couple recently settled on it for some $4 million.
What did the Canadian government have to do with Célestin’s acquisition of the mansion? Everything. Célestin is a high-ranking official of a foreign country. Any Canadian real estate agent or bank he contacted about buying the mansion was obliged by Canadian law to ask a simple question: How does a public official of one of the world’s poorest countries amass enough to buy such a luxurious home?
If the July 11 New York Times story on the Senator and the mansion is correct, an inquiry would quickly have raised suspicions that the money did not come from a legitimate source. That in turn would have further obliged the real estate agent or banker to alert Canadian authorities.
Reports by the Financial Action Task Force and Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering have repeatedly warned Canadian officials that controls on money laundering in the real estate sector were toothless, that for years corrupt foreign officials have been hiding their money in Canada through the purchase of pricey real estate. Indeed, in their latest, joint report, issued in 2016, the two flagged the rise of “criminally-inclined real estate professionals, notably real estate lawyers” to cater to the money laundering needs of criminals of all kind.
Is it too much to ask Canadian authorities to stop looking the other way when corrupt officials come to their country to shop for real estate? Perhaps the picture of the Senator’s mansion juxtaposed with anyone of the thousands of Haiti’s poor might prompt action? Canadian civil society, where are you?