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Could regulatory agencies foil Gawker’s Rob Ford ‘Crackstarter’ campaign?

Could regulatory agencies foil Gawker’s Rob Ford ‘Crackstarter’ campaign?

On Thursday, Gawker’s John Cook announced that the news site’s Indiegogo campaign to buy a video allegedly showing Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack could be in trouble. Raising the necessary $200,000 isn’t the problem — with four days to go, Gawker has already received more than $160,000 in pledges. The problem is that the owners of the footage have gone silent, perhaps in light of the intense media scrutiny the story has generated. "Our confidence that we can get a deal done has … dimished," Cook wrote. 

But that might not be the only snag awaiting the campaign. Canada’s National Post has put forward another theory: If Gawker purchases the video from people involved in Toronto’s drug trade, the payment could attract the attention of U.S. and Canadian regulatory agencies — and be seized on the suspicion that it is helping the video’s owners "profit from criminal activity."

The article goes on to explain how the case would boil down to whether the person who recorded the alleged footage was simply present at the scene and whipped out a camera, or involved in illicit activities: 

[A]n electronic transaction that large between Canada and the United States will likely get flagged to both countries’ financial regulatory bodies, said Christine Duhaime, a B.C. lawyer with a specialized anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing practice.

Electronic cross-border transactions over $10,000 must be declared, she said.

"Anyone is going to be concerned at any regulatory agency and any police force is going to be concerned with a company coming out and saying they’re raising money to buy something from a drug dealer…. There are going to be some red flags. I don’t really know how much this is going to be monitored, other than the fact that somebody is going to monitor the payment from Gawker fairly closely, because people have come out and said it is drug dealers [involved]."

The purchase of the video itself isn’t illegal, but if the recipient – the details of which must be known for wire transfers and other electronic transactions – is a known criminal and shows up on a list of suspects or suspicious individuals, it will be reported to FINTRAC in Canada or FINCEN in the U.S., she said.

"Assuming it’s a legitimate video and it’s legally taken, that’s not a problem," she said. "Except that it’s going to a known drug dealer. Paying to a known drug dealer for a legitimate sale is problematic in and of itself, because the vendor [is] of questionable character and there are questionable activities."

Just one more wrinkle in an incredibly convoluted story.