There is still no confirmation that the gold stolen off a fishing boat in Curaçao last Friday is from Guyana, Natural Resources and the Environment Minister Robert Persaud said yesterday, while disclosing that the government has contacted authorities in the island for information on the heist.
“There has been no documentation produced to establish that it [the gold] was from here, that is all I am prepared to say at this moment,” Persaud told Stabroek News yesterday afternoon, when asked if the 70 gold bars, worth an estimated US$11.5 million ($2.3 billion) and grabbed off the Summer Bliss, were from Guyana.
He indicated that he was out of town at the time and had not received an update from the authorities in Curaçao. “We have contacted authorities in Curaçao and other sister agencies,” Persaud, however, disclosed.
The vessel arrived in Curaçao at 4 am and was attacked immediately after mooring. According to police reports, the robbers went to the port area in three different cars and guards let them inside the restricted area in the mistaken belief that they were customs officials. The men’s jackets had the word “police” in English but in Curaçao the word would be written in Papiamento, one of the island’s three official languages, as “polis.”
News agency Amigoe reported that six men, carrying guns and wearing masks and hoodies along with the police jackets stormed the ship. At gunpoint, they pushed the 51-year-old captain as well as the three Guyanese crewmen onto the ground.
The perpetrators apparently knew their way around the ship and walked directly to the three metal boxes with the gold bars and they reportedly took only five minutes to remove them. The gold weighed 216 kilogrammes.
Contacted by this newspaper yesterday, Curaçao’s police spokesman Reggie Huggins said that the crew members have all been questioned by investigators and the one who was injured has been treated. He said the police would not release the names of the men “because they are victims and while in the past we would give initials now we only give ages.” He said all four men are from Guyana and when asked if the men were required to remain in the country as the investigation continues, he said he had “no information that they cannot leave.”
Asked if the authorities have been able to establish the origin of the gold, Huggins responded in the negative. “The origin of the gold has not been established but what I can say is that the gold was not for local consumption, it was for another destination.”
Huggins said he could not give any update on the investigation as it is a “sensitive one” and putting information out in the public domain may jeopardise it. He, however, disclosed that a special investigation team, referred to as the ‘Assault Team’, was in charge of the investigation, which is headed by the country’s chief prosecutor. He added that so far no real information has been provided by members of the public despite appeals by the police.
Meanwhile, there are questions about how the boat could have left Guyana as a security source said there is no paperwork relating to its departure.
However, it was pointed out that there are many illegal ports in Berbice and Essequibo, from which the boat could have departed. In particular, there are reports that the vessel could have departed somewhere off the Essequibo Coast, where there is minimal security presence.
Although it has been suggested that the gold may have some connection to Suriname, a source there said that at the moment there is no such investigation ongoing. Local police officials yesterday said that there has been no updated information.
There are also suggestions that the person in whose name the vessel is registered hails from Canal Number One, checks by this newspaper could not substantiate this information. Persons in the immediate communities also had not heard of the individual nor a vessel with the name Summer Bliss.
The Amigoe news agency had reported the spokesperson for Curaçao customs Richenel Martijn as saying that that the gold was bound for Miami. “The ship was in transit. The cargo would be delivered in Miami in the United States,” the news agency quoted him as saying.
The report had also said that shipping of gold and money is permitted once this is indicated on the cargo manifest. Martijn had said that customs was aware that a large amount of gold was onboard the ship since the manifest was sent electronically on Thursday for clearance before the ship arrived. Agencia Bethencourt shipping company was named as representing the vessel, but attempts to contact the shipping company were unsuccessful yesterday as all the numbers listed online were out of service.
It was reported that the vessel would be seen with “great regularity” in Curaçao and one of the crew members Raymond Emmanuel was quoted in an Associated Press report as saying it was not the first time they had taken gold to the destination.
Stabroek News was unable to get a comment from the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners’ Association (GGDMA) as its president Patrick Harding said he was out of town and could not speak at the time, while administrative coordinator of the association Colin Sparman was also not available.
On Friday last, Sparman had questioned the legality of the shipment, since all gold exports from Guyana leave by air given the fluctuations in gold prices.
Smuggling of gold is “nothing new and it is bigger than the miners,” President of the Guyana Women Miners Organisation (GWMO) Simona Broomes told this newspaper, while noting that she could not say whether the gold left Guyana.
She pointed out that because of smuggling, the true figure of gold produced locally has not surfaced.
Broomes said she agreed with an earlier suggestion made by Minister of Transport and former GGMC Commissioner Robeson Benn that there should be a point system for miners where they receive incentives for the amount of gold declared. She said she agreed with the suggestion because people are buying and selling gold from anywhere at present. “You have people selling gold to people in camps but if miners know they can benefit from an incentive they would walk into the Guyana Gold Board and sell their gold,” she said.
Broomes added that right now medium and small-scale miners only receive duty-free concessions for ATVs and if instead they can get duty-free concessions for land cruisers based on the amount of gold they sell, this could be an incentive for them to sell to the gold board.
There was expected to be a meeting with the association, Persaud and the Geo-logy and Mines Commission (GGMC) but the minister did not give any information on what was discussed.
The Government Informa-tion Agency (GINA) had reported that a special task force consisting of representatives from the GGDMA, law enforcement authorities, the Customs and Trade Administration, among other stakeholders, is to review the current regulations so as to prevent the smuggling of gold and other minerals.
It had said that the ministry has been seeking to work with Suriname, Brazil and Venezuela to reduce all forms of illegal minerals trade and will continue to work with all stakeholders of the gold industry to ensure that more stringent measures are implemented and enforced to ensure the legal trade of Guyana’s gold is maintained.
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 and under tight security, given the rapid fluctuation of prices for the precious mineral.