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Judge locks bank accounts of Okanagan business owner, suspected drug supplier

Kelowna Law Courts

An Okanagan man suspected of using his car dealership and mortgages to hide drug money had his bank accounts frozen by a judge.

He's one of three people included in the order as the province seeks to seize assets during ongoing fraud and drug investigations.

Kulwant Singh Bal, owner of Kelowna car dealership Empire Motors, is one of four people named in a civil suit launched by the BC Civil Forfeiture Office. The department is looking to seize six properties, along with cash, bank accounts and other items deemed to be proceeds of criminal activity.

Roughly three years ago, two police investigations led officers to Bal, with one centred in Kelowna and the other in Lloydminster.

In Kelowna, police started investigating Jaskaran Singh Sidhu for mortgage fraud.

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Sidhu was working at Valley First Credit Union in Rutland from August 2019 to November 2020, where he is suspected to have taken falsified documents from Bal and approved multiple mortgages, according to a notice of claim filed earlier this month.

The two are considered "associates" by the civil forfeiture office and jointly own one of the six properties. Neither of them have been criminally charged, nor have the two other people named as defendants in the case.

The full extent of Sidhu's benefits through the transactions aren't known, but they include around $47,000 in cash deposits to his bank account throughout 2020, according to the notice of claim.

The fraud investigation started in January 2021, while a Lloydminster drug trafficking investigation started that spring. It didn't initially involve Bal, according to the notice of claim.

Lloydminster RCMP were tracing a dial-a-dope scheme and connected Bal as a supplier for local dealers. It's not clear when they pinpointed Bal, but he started selling large amounts of drugs to an undercover officer before the end of 2021.

An officer went to Empire Motors on Highway 97 four times from December 2021 to April 2022 for cocaine and meth. The pick ups ranged from around 250 grams of cocaine to 500 grams, with nearly a kilogram of meth in one purchase. Twice it was Bal who delivered the drugs, but the two later purchases were delivered by an associate named Gary who isn't named as a defendant.

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On May 6, 2022, Bal allegedly agreed to launder $25,000 for the undercover officer, who followed through by delivering two cheques a week later. It's not clear whose name was on the cheques, but the civil forfeiture office said it wasn't Bal's or his business.

Bal was arrested on June 1, 2022, for drug trafficking, while three of his properties were raided by police, according to the notice of claim.

Police seizures included jewelry, drugs, silver bars, weapons, score sheets and financial documents in Bal's name and his wife's. Police also seized thousands in both real and counterfeit cash, which included Canadian, American and Israeli currency.

A BC Supreme Court Justice ordered some of Bal's bank accounts be frozen for 60 days, along with others that belong to his wife Catherine Bal and three that belong to Sidhu.

His wife and another man, Darshan Kaur Bal, are named as defendants in the suit, but they're involvement isn't clear beyond having an ownership stake in some of the properties.

The civil forfeiture office targeted three residential strata properties in Kelowna, the Highway 97 Kelowna dealership and two properties in Vernon. One appears to be an acreage on L and A Road, while the other is a nearby vacant lot.

None of the four defendants have responded to the civil claim, nor have they been criminally charged.

None of the civil forfeiture's claims have been proven in court.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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