Gold cargo legal – Curaçao maintains

As investigations continue into Friday’s stunning multi-million gold heist in Curaçao, authorities on the island are maintaining that the shipment was legal since it was cleared electronically on Thursday prior to the ship entering port the following day.

There are still questions about the origin of the gold and whether it was mined here, in Suriname or elsewhere and a meeting is scheduled for this morning between the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, the Guyana Geology and Geology and Mines Commis-sion, the Guyana Gold and Diamond and Miners Association and other stakeholders to look at current regulations and discuss smuggling of the precious metal.

Seventy bars of gold worth an estimated US$11.5 million ($2.3 billion) was grabbed off a fishing boat in a spectacular early morning heist in the Netherlands-administered Curaçao on Friday. It was destined for Miami, according to an island customs official. Authorities here are trying to determine if the gold was mined here and a request has been made to Curaçao for information. At least six bandits posing as police stole the gold which weighed 216 kilograms and was packed in three metal boxes.

There are reports that the boat, the Summer Bliss, had left Suriname with the shipment but this has not been confirmed. There are certain procedures to be followed when exporting gold and there appears to be no record of that shipment leaving Guyana.

The ‘Summer Bliss,’ had just moored at a wharf in Curaçao, having arrived from Guyana at about 4am on Friday when the attack occurred. The daring, “unprecedented” heist, carried out with precision, has left officials in the Dutch-speaking island questioning whether it was an “inside job” and has also seen concern expressed about the security of shipping there. The heist has garnered media attention from around the world.

On Saturday, Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment Robert Persaud met with local gold and diamond dealers and the GGDMA in an emergency meeting, where he reiterated government’s zero tolerance for gold smuggling, the Government Information Agency (GINA) had reported. “The Minister stated that the President of Guyana and the government are very concerned and are treating the report with a high level of seriousness. As such, the Government and law enforcement sector will work with concerned international authorities to ascertain the source of the gold,” GINA said.

Richenel Martijn, the press spokesman for Curaçao customs told the news agency, Amigoe, that the gold was bound for Miami. “The ship was in transit. The cargo would be delivered in Miami in the United States (US),” he was quoted as saying. The report said that shipping of gold and money is permitted once this is indicated on the cargo manifest. The shipping agency that is responsible for the handling of customs clearance must notify customs for it to be processed and this was done, according to Martijn. “Customs was aware of the fact that a large amount of gold (was) on board,” he was quoted as saying. He added that the manifest was sent electronically on Thursday for clearance before the ship arrived.

The Dutch news outlet, Nederlands Dagblad yesterday reported customs as maintaining that the shipment was legal.

Amigoe reported insiders as saying that the ‘Summer Bliss’ would be seen with “great regularity” at Curaçao. The report said that Harbour Master Marlon Laroche revealed that the shipping agency, Agencia Bethencourt, represented the vessel. Vessels with valuable cargo are almost always checked, the report said.

Curaçao police have said that they have the licence plate number of one of three cars used in Friday’s getaway, and they have been asking for the public’s help in tracking the suspects. Yesterday, there were no reports of anyone being arrested in the “unprecedented” case and it was not clear whether the captain and three crew members were still being interviewed by police.

Gold smuggling is said to be prevalent here with a significant quantity believed to be smuggled to Suriname owing to lower tax and royalty rates in that country. Gold from Guyana is usually exported via air, given the rapid fluctuation of prices for the precious mineral, and under tight security.

Administrative coordinator of the GGDMA, Colin Sparman on Friday had questioned the legality of the Curaçao shipment stating that all gold exports from Guyana leave by air given the changes in gold prices. He noted that it would take days and even weeks to ship gold by sea with security also weaker via this route. Last year Guyana recorded official gold production at 360,000 ounces though a significant portion is believed to be smuggled.

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