Several persons, including miners from Eccles, Georgetown and Bartica, are expected to be charged within days for their roles in a gold smuggling racket.
The charges of money laundering, among others, will come against a number of unlicensed gold dealers who from as far back as 2013 used local officials at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri, and forged documents to take gold on direct flights to the US and other places.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had reportedly provided Guyana authorities with a list of persons who had taken gold to the JFK airport, New York, and declaring it there. The racket would have seen Customs and other Gold Board documents being recycled along with seals.
Hundreds of millions of dollars of profits were being made but little for Guyana.
A number of officials reportedly stationed at the airport had resigned.
According to sources close to the investigation, the matter was being handled by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), an arm of the police that focuses on financial crimes.
The gold smuggling racket first reared its head in late 2015 when the Coalition Government had barely settled in.
From all indications, the US authorities had been paying attention to the gold coming through its airports.
The new administration, under David Granger, had been worrying about leakages of taxes and other revenues from the smuggling activities.
A team from the FBI, the US premier investigative law enforcement agency, and the Department of Homeland Security, visited Guyana in 2015 and briefed authorities here on their findings.
The interest of the FBI had spelled serious problems for local miners and others involved in gold smuggling.
Several miners and even former dealers were pulled in by SOCU for questioning.
They included one miner from Eccles who has linkages to a security firm, several from Bartica, from West Demerara, Mahdia in Region Eight and the city. Another person was a dealer who was recently in the news after being accused with a bank fraud and later, in a scheme to defraud the government of taxes.
The players were not licensed to export gold, sources explained yesterday.
The US had within the last four years yanked the visas of a number of miners and other players who were believed to have been involved in gold smuggling and possible money laundering.
In 2015, the new administration estimated that up to 15,000 ounces of gold were being smuggled weekly out to Brazil, Suriname, the US and elsewhere.
It was estimated that almost half of the country’s gold production was being smuggled. Guyana’s royalty and taxes on gold were therefore lessened.
Yesterday, Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, disclosed that based on reports, it is estimated that approximately 15,000 ounces of gold is slipping across the borders every month. Trotman tentatively put the smuggled figures between 50 and 60 percent of total production.
With Guyana charging seven percent in royalties and taxes, smugglers have been making a killing smuggling it out and selling it for more money in Suriname where the taxes are lower.
Officials have reported a decrease in smuggling with tighter controls at ports and cooperation between neighbours.
The FBI report to local authorities here would have spoken also of the money trail, and how the smugglers attempted to hide the money from the Guyana Government to avoid taxes.
During meetings here, the FBI and Homeland Security officials would have met with Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, Natural Resources Minister, Raphael Trotman, SOCU and the regulators- the Guyana Gold Board.
Gold mining activities had been helping to buoy an economy that has seen a less than desirable performance in other sectors.
It is the biggest earner for foreign currency in Guyana.
The good news now for Guyana is that gold prices are on the upswing and could impact higher declarations this year despite poor weather and other challenges by miners.
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