Jun. 15, 2004. 06:14 AM

Top lawyer held in police sting
Faces money-laundering charges
Local jeweller also accused in case



A prominent Toronto lawyer and a local jeweller face money-laundering charges, following a sting operation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and U.S. law-enforcement agencies.


Peter Shoniker, 47, was arrested yesterday at his north Toronto home and charged with four counts of laundering the proceeds of crime and one count each of conspiracy to launder the proceeds of crime, attempting to possess the proceeds of crime, possession of the proceeds of crime and theft over $5,000.


Babak (Bobby) Adeli Tabrizi faces four counts of laundering the proceeds of crime and one count each of conspiracy to launder the proceeds of crime and attempting to possess the proceeds of crime. He was also arrested yesterday, but police didn't say where he was taken into custody or release his age.


Both men were scheduled to appear for a bail hearing at Old City Hall court yesterday.


A sting operation resulted in an undercover officer handing over $750,000 in Canadian currency to an individual, and the money was to be transported through several other countries and into the United States, police allege.


Shoniker, who became a lawyer in 1985, has served as a special prosecutor for a Toronto police task force created in the late 1980s to probe organized crime, and was a lawyer for a number of police chiefs in Ontario after going into private practice.


He has been working for a downtown financial company as a lawyer and financial consultant, police said.


Superintendent Ben Soave, head of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, announced the charges at a news conference yesterday.


Criminals and organized crime spend a great deal of time, energy and money to recruit, engage, compromise and befriend such professionals as bankers, lawyers, accountants, police officers and politicians to further their criminal enterprises, Soave said.


"Organized-crime criminals will do everything possible to exploit anyone in a position of power," he said.


"The message I would like to convey is that we in a position of power, influence or public trust must always be vigilant," the officer said.


"We must ask those probing questions when presented with skeptical situations. Integrity, honour and public trust must be cherished because once tarnished, it can have a significant impact on our careers, our professions, the public trust and most important as well, our families."


Soave said the same undercover organized-crime investigation that recently resulted in criminal charges against some Toronto police officers brought information to the surface that led to a separate investigation into a money-laundering operation.


He said the two accused are not known to be directly involved with any organized-crime groups at this point, but the investigation by members of the RCMP's Toronto Integrated Proceeds of Crime section is continuing, with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Eldorado Task Force.


Although the homeland security department is involved in the investigation, Soave said the case has nothing to do with terrorism or moving funds to finance terrorist activities. The homeland security office is an umbrella organization overseeing agencies that protect America's borders, he said, and is now involved whenever anything is illegally brought into the country.


"As the investigation develops, there may be other charges and other people charged," Soave said. He also said since money was moved into the United States, it's possible Shoniker and Adeli Tabrizi could face charges there.


Soave was unable to say how the two men were connected.


The Mounties provided the money that was used in the investigation. "It was a sting operation," he said. "His role as a lawyer was integral to the investigation. The jeweller became part of the chain."


While Soave didn't have any information about Shoniker's professional or personal relationships with police officers, he said the charges he faces are in no way connected with the corruption investigation that was launched by the RCMP and Toronto Police Service.


"We are alleging that this cash was laundered from Canada to the U.S. by ways of other countries," Soave said. He wouldn't say what other countries were involved.


For 15 months, members of the Toronto Integrated Proceeds of Crime section and U.S. investigators monitored the movement of the cash, which the undercover investigator presented as being obtained illegally.


Soave said some of the money went missing during the laundering process and the investigation showed it had been stolen.


The investigation is ongoing and Soave couldn't reveal much detail, but he said the arrests show that no part of society is exempt from enforcement.


He said an investigation of alleged criminal activity by a lawyer presents a unique and complex challenge because normal investigative tools normally used by police are restricted.


"The unfortunate consequence of these restrictions is that they, the legal profession, can be exploited to cloak criminal activity," he said.


As an example of the restrictions, Soave said any communication between a solicitor and client is protected by law.


"Criminals and organized crime take advantage of this needed, crucial and fundamental cornerstone of our justice system," he said.


"The result is that criminals, with the assistance of a complicit lawyer, can hide behind the law enabling them to shield their criminal activity from the legitimate scrutiny of law enforcement."


Soave said it saddens him whenever he has to announce the arrest of a police officer or lawyer.


"I consider lawyers and police officers to be pivotal to the administration of justice," he said.


"But I am also proud to state that we are committed to rooting out those who begin to think and act above the law, regardless of their profession or status in the community," Soave said.


"No one, but no one, is above the law, despite what some may think. We will ensure that the full weight of the law is brought to bear against those who breach the public's trust and confidence."