The extensive cover-up has drawn new attention to Canadians’ reputation as ‘criminals, tax dodgers and money launderers’
How a Canadian businessman-turned-convict set up a secret offshore company as investigators closed in
On a February day in 2008 in New York City, Vito Rizzuto, the jailed leader of the Mafia in Montreal, was trying to make ends meet with what was believed to be his only new business venture.
Rizzuto’s bosses had given him a wide-ranging loan and required him to open an offshore bank account. His wife did not have access to any foreign currency and the construction mogul had been unable to buy a jet because of insufficient investment capital.
Inside, along with Rizzuto’s brother-in-law, Carl “Cactus” Castellano, was a newly hired fund manager, Antonio Accurso, who recruited Rizzuto to work for his Montreal-based company, Joeten Development. The mutual goal? To hide their $100m criminal empire from law enforcement.
Accurso’s company operates as a complex network of ultra-low-cost foreign currency brokerage and investment funds on the dark web, an underground platform in which anonymous buyers and sellers can anonymously trade currencies, banks and businesses at home and abroad.
The company is one of more than 100 such underworld organizations that use encrypted servers and bitcoins to help launder money and shield identities. It has tracked $12bn in suspicious transactions over the past eight years, according to its website.
The 25,000 page criminal indictment returned by a federal grand jury in New York last month described how the company funneled money through real estate, private equity funds and middlemen.
But a second email offered a guidepost for those wanting to navigate the world of offshore investments. “One thing I think we need to work on,” it said, “is how to hide our family connection.”
Rizzuto, 74, is serving a 20-year sentence for racketeering. The indictment revealed that he opened three new offshore bank accounts in 2008, for $1.6m, and then re-opened two more days later.
The email from Accurso listed six real estate transactions as links to a new offshore account.
The vast archive of documents was seized in New York earlier this year as part of a corruption investigation into French sports manufacturers. That probe, revealed in detail in the indictment, uncovered how the bribery networks that smuggled cash into Montreal’s construction industry also used foreign bank accounts as a convenient way to move the cash.
In 2008, investigators followed an $8.5m drug money trail that they traced to tax havens such as Switzerland, the Netherlands and Jersey. They ended up tracing the money to Raj Kapoor, an Indian businessman with an office on Jay Drive in Westmount, Montreal.
Kapoor has pleaded guilty in Canada to money laundering charges.
Accurso was born in France but he spent most of his life in Quebec, where he worked on construction contracts to build retirement centres and low-income housing. He escaped from prison after just three months in Canada.
Although Accurso spent more than 30 years behind bars in Canada for murder and fraud, his web of companies has not been implicated in any of the corruption and money laundering investigations that have rocked the province’s construction industry.
But this has not stopped many of the company’s employees and shareholders from adopting the Swiss and Dutch names of companies and businesses, which are commonly used to set up offshore shell companies that offer a degree of anonymity, in return for a relatively modest fee.
Accurso’s company was incorporated in a corporate office in the scenic St Lawrence city of Rimouski in Quebec’s South Shore, close to Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts. The probe turned up information from corporate records that suggested the Rizzutos,