MONTREAL - Police say they've dismantled a Canadian money-laundering ring that used dummy international companies to recycle illicit cash.
Quebec provincial police said Wednesday that it had frozen $48 million in assets, among the largest seizures of its kind in Canada.
Four people were arrested as officers swooped down on a number of targets in the Montreal area - including Ronald Chicoine, 57, the owner of Speedo Financial Corporation and the scheme's alleged mastermind.
Insp. Denis Morin said the scheme received help in Europe from three people who ran shell companies: two of them are Swiss nationals, and the other is a Belgian on the lam and believed to be abroad.
Investigators said money was sent to false overseas companies based in Europe, with the money then being sent back to Montreal in the form of fake loans to Chicoine's company.
Speedo Financial Corp. would then lend the money out to clients as legitimate loans at legal interest rates, police said.
"That injection of illicit funds to Europe was money coming from, among other places, organized crime," Morin said.
"The strategy allowed for fake interest charges to be declared, and then for tax evasion."
Three men, including Chicoine, face a number of charges including gangsterism, forgery, fraud, money-laundering, receiving stolen goods and breaking bail conditions.
A woman also arrested Wednesday faces a charge of improper storage of a firearm.
Accounting records and computer data were also seized as police executed seven search warrants in Montreal suburbs, including in the offices of a lawyer and two notaries.
Police seized five bank accounts in Canada and Switzerland containing $5.7 million, as well as four buildings in Montreal and the city's South Shore worth $2.5 million.
Police also seized two Porsches and two private homes.
The amount of money allegedly defrauded from both the federal and provincial governments is estimated at $12 million between the 1996 and 2009 tax years.
Police said Chicoine, 57, the owner of the financial company, was the brains behind the scheme.
The Montreal businessman was initially arrested in November 2008 under Project Dorade, which involved fake billing in the construction industry. Police said the current investigation stemmed from that previous one.
This investigation, dubbed Dorade 2, suggested that Chcoine also owned the European companies, but that he used cohorts as figureheads.
Also arrested were Serge Perrier, 50, an accountant who handled the books for Chicoine, and Ronald-Andre Comeau, 58, a disbarred Quebec lawyer who acted as a facilitator between the European shell companies.