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Agencies remain mum on Thow whereabouts
Disgraced former investment adviser faces 25 counts of fraud over $5,000


Andrew A. Duffy

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

If the RCMP and provincial Crown counsel know the whereabouts of disgraced Victoria investment adviser Ian Thow, they're not telling.

Amid rumours Thow has been seen near his home in Seattle, and has contacted some former clients looking for money, the agencies who are searching for the former vice-president of Berkshire Investment Group are keeping mum on the subject.

"We are continuing to work with the federal Department of Justice, provincial Crown and with U.S. authorities," was all Insp. George Pemberton of the Vancouver RCMP's Integrated Market Enforcement Team would say yesterday.

The RCMP has been searching for Thow for nearly four months. He is charged with 25 counts of fraud over $5,000 as a result of his misuse of former clients' investments.

Thow, who has been living in Seattle but is known to have spent some time recently in Jamaica, left Victoria in the summer of 2005. That happened amid claims from former clients and creditors that he bilked them out of more than $32 million by convincing them to invest in schemes ranging from shares in a Jamaican bank to loans for Vancouver developers.

The Vancouver Sun which reported Thow has been spotted recently near his home in Seattle, had been speculating the Crown was negotiating with Thow to have him return to face the charges, but Crown spokesman Stan Lowe threw cold water on that idea yesterday.

"There isn't one," he said in an interview when asked if a deal was being put together to bring Thow back to Vancouver. "We want an individual to return to the jurisdiction either voluntarily or by way of the police, but we are not about to make a plea resolution of a matter when a person is the subject of a warrant."

As for Thow coming back voluntarily, Pemberton said stranger things have happened.

"Obviously it would save everyone a lot of time and money if he just walked up to Peace Arch Border Crossing and said, 'Hi, here I am,' " said Pemberton. "But you'd be surprised, not too many people want to spend time in federal detention centres in the U.S."

The fact that Canadian authorities aren't negotiating a deal does soothe the frayed nerves of some of Thow's former clients.

"[Negotiating] would piss me off, what's there to negotiate? He's a criminal, just bring him in," said Brad Goodwin, whose family claims Thow bilked them of $1.4 million.

Goodwin said he's tried to stop thinking about Thow and the ordeal his family has been through.

"I'll probably think about it again when they catch him, but right now it's completely out of my mind. Just to get a piece of your life back, you have to try and forget about it," he said, though he was quick to note he will never forget what Thow did to them. "What he did to us, what he did to me, you never forget that your whole life."

If Thow does not return to Canada voluntarily, it could take months or even years before he faces a court in this country according to extradition expert and former Victoria attorney Gary Botting.

In a recent interview, Botting said if Thow is arrested in the U.S., which has an extradition treaty with Canada, that country tends to fight tough for the rights of its citizens. Thow was born in California and retains his American citizenship

According to the Canadian Department of Justice, the decision whether or not to make a request for extradition is that of the prosecutorial authorities, who would have to conduct the prosecution in Canada. And granting extradition is decided by the determining factors of dual criminality -- whether the alleged offence is a crime in both countries -- and the seriousness of the offence, among other things.

Canada may also make a request to the foreign country for the provisional arrest of the person in question, although it will be Canadian officers bringing that person back to Canada.

Thow faces a maximum penalty of between 10 and 14 years in prison per charge.

And while there has been no movement on finding and arresting Thow, some of his former clients have received good news as the Ombudsman for Banking Services and Investment appears to have completed its investigation and is prepared to recommend some of them be compensated.

The OBSI was investigating claims Scotiabank didn't follow proper procedures when it issued loans to some of Thow's clients. Those loans, to as many as 15 clients, totalled nearly $5 million.

According to the clients, many of them had little or no contact with the bank. And while each story was a little different, they all involved a line of credit or loan with Scotiabank from which funds were procured and transferred to Thow and his numbered companies.

That money was never invested on behalf of his clients, but was instead used to fuel his ostentatious lifestyle.

Those former clients claimed Scotiabank did not do its due diligence when handing out the loans and they are now stuck with lines of credit and mortgages hanging over their heads with nothing to show for it.

While the OBSI refused to comment on the cases citing privacy issues, two of Thow's former clients confirmed they were contacted to say the investigation is complete.

Brad Goodwin said he was told the OBSI will not be recommending Scotiabank compensate him because they had inadequate access to documentation.

But Douglas McColl said his wife Olga, who said she had never seen the inside of a Scotiabank yet ended up with a $75,000 line of credit after signing a blank loan application document while sitting in Thow's car, heard better news.

"The Ombudsman was quite encouraging when it came to my wife," said Douglas.

"I think they are moving toward getting a settlement from the bank. At least it's something."

According to OBSI spokeswoman Diane Bélanger when they do make a recommendation the banks or financial institutions generally have 30 days to act. If they refuse --it has only happened once -- the details of the case are then made public.

aduffy@tc.canwest.com

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Ian Thow takes flight