“We might as well face it. There is so much big money and influence involved that the politicians will not act aggressively until there is overwhelming public opinion backing them and they have covered their own asses.”
— from the novel Laundering the Dragon, by John D’Eathe
As one of Canada’s biggest property developers, West Vancouver’s John D’Eathe has had a direct hand in constructing more than $5 billion worth of residential towers and condo complexes in East Asia and Canada.
While working out of Hong Kong, China, Macau, Singapore and Canada, he says he witnessed suspicious dealings — apparent money laundering, bribing, tax evasion, underground banking and other forms of corruption — that he realizes are virtually impossible to prove in a court of law.
D’Eathe was also frustrated B.C.’s $20-million Cullen Commission into money laundering not only failed to determine the extent of dirty money flooding the country, it didn’t come close to actually bringing anyone to justice.
So the property developer decided to write a crime thriller.
It’s called Laundering the Dragon: Black Renminbi, from Adagio Media.
D’Eathe dubs it “a contemporary melodramatic novel” set in recent times.
“It follows Canadian Ron Leyland’s encounter with romance in Hong Kong, leading him into business opportunities presented by dubious big money from Macau and China.”
The dust jacket of Laundering the Dragon says it revolves around a plot in which the renminbi, the currency of China, “is slowly weaving its way into control of the Western world. Illegal capital movement, unchecked money laundering and cheating have become prevalent in Canada. Wealth prevails and Ron is swept away in the process, uneasy but unchallenged.”
Laundering the Dragon is a fast-moving fictional crime novel. It explores the problems D’Eathe, 88, says Canadian law enforcement officials appear unable to tackle. The book is filled with colourful characters, including two women raised in China who wade into the corruption and find ways to combat it.
The affable D’Eathe’s recollections and insights cut to the bone of global business and ethics. In the midst of it all, he’s been proud of developing real-life close friendships with some giants of the property development business, including the late David Lam (who became B.C.’s lieutenant-governor) and Stanley Kwok (original developer of the Expo lands).
Over lunch at The Vancouver Club, D’Eathe describes his first-name relationships with top Social Credit, Liberal and NDP politicians, including Premier David Eby and Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon. One of his sons is NDP MLA Bob D’Eith (Maple Ridge-Mission) Since his novel came out, he’s also pleased to say he’s become comrade-in-arms with some retired RCMP officers.
D’Eathe’s resumé is remarkable, in both business and public service. He’s headed many of the country’s biggest development companies, including Bentall Kennedy, Freehold Properties and ITC Construction, often working with foreign investors.
He’s won many service awards and been a director of a couple of dozen philanthropic organizations, including the Justice Institute of B.C. Foundation. He also wrote an earlier book, Tokkie Smith and the Colour of Rugby, about a legendary 1960s Hong Kong rugby player and friend who opened up the game to all races.
Laundering the Dragon is something new for D’Eathe. It’s his attempt to help Canadians confront the darker aspects of what is going on in global real-estate development.
“My overriding concern is what is happening to business ethics in Canada. The bad guys are winning, unfortunately.”
At one point in our discussion, D’Eathe produced a Transparency International index showing perceived public sector corruption levels in countries of the world. Canada scores well, while China and India do not.
D’Eathe said he feels sorry for the citizens of the People’s Republic.
“Chinese people are great people. But the system they have is appalling. It grinds them down. It stops them from being real and free with each other. I don’t want that to creep in here.”
In addition to listening to what D’Eathe says in conversation, readers can identify his ethical fears through the characters in his “cynically lighthearted” novel.
Many characters in the thriller are struck by how easy it is to move suspicious money into Canada and then have their official connection to it disappear, which is the essence of what D’Eathe calls “money crime.”
One key China-born character, a Vancouver nightclub owner named Wong Mai Fu whose bedroom is stuffed with cash, “was able to operate in Asia without being harassed so long as he paid off all the necessary officials,” says the novel. “Yet, in Canada, he did not have that problem. Because, strangely, people in authority were not on the take. They indeed had lots of laws forbidding things, but no apparent interest in enforcing them.”
Another Vancouver-based character, Maise Leyland, the justice-oriented sister of Wong, says: “’More than a thousand people are moving into the city every week, many with money, making the pressure on real-estate continuous. Our socially progressive state supports everyone in safety. No wonder people from around the world are scrambling to gain admission. We are all just caught up in exploiting the growth.’”
D’Eathe believes he walked the fine line of integrity during his long career as a housing developer. And while he has mostly built luxury housing, he continues to think the market can provide affordable housing if politicians impose strong zoning changes to demand it.
It is, however, the federal government that vexes him the most. The author of Laundering the Dragon believes Ottawa’s politicians have been the most blameworthy for looking the other way while dubious money has swept the country.
The jury is still out, D’Eathe says, on the fundamental moral question posed in his novel: “Will Canada learn to protect itself in a corrupt, manipulative world — and struggle out of its naiveté in time?”
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