Companies here under scrutiny over gold heist

-Ministry team for Curacao
The Ministry of Natural Resources is to dispatch a team to the Dutch island of Curacao to aid an investigation into the breathtaking heist of over 476 lbs of gold on Friday and industry sources say that suspicion has fallen on three companies here which have been known to smuggle gold via Suriname.
With the gold in bars, sources say the operation points to bigger players in the industry.

Minister of Natural Resources, Robert Persaud, when asked last evening to affirm if teams will be deployed said “Teams will be going to where we believe teams ought to go as it relates to this investigation so I am not including or excluding any jurisdiction because indications are that it involves a number of countries. “

He said that deploying persons was necessary if the end result was a more efficient monitoring of the mineral trade. “We have an obligation to if we believe it will help in the management and monitoring of the minerals trade, it is advisable that we be there” he added.   Persaud stated that there is a team on the ground interacting with related agencies and because the investigation is a very active one he did not want to divulge any additional information.

A source close to the investigation here told Stabroek News that while they are not ruling out that the gold could have originated from Suriname there is little belief that it did since the royalties paid on gold in that country are less than what it is here. It is also believed that this is not the maiden operation of the smugglers. As such, while Guyana is liaising with the Surinamese authorities there were no “immediate” plans to send anyone to that country.

Royalties and taxes combined in Guyana are  7% on gold while in Suriname it’s far less. If the gold was smuggled from Guyana there would be over $140M in taxes and royalties lost from Guyana’s coffers. Stabroek News was told that gold is smuggled to Suriname in large amounts by legitimate buyers who purchase from dredge owners who also do not want to pay the requisite royalties.

Suriname recently announced that it was considering increasing the royalty on gold as there had been many concerns raised by Guyanese and French Guiana authorities.

There is speculation that some of the gold in the heist might have been smuggled from Guyana to Suriname and mixed with gold for which taxes were paid and then placed on the boat for exportation.

A source here told Stabroek News that there is information that three established companies are linked to the gold and that the smuggling involves two large scale buyers.

“The fact that it was refined in bars, we have to assume to regulatory stipulations is a signal that a company capable of undertaking that transformation is involved”, the source said.

Guyanese officials, the source stated, believe that the name of the vessel, `Summer Bliss’, is not a registered one and that the vessel’s name was changed for its smuggling purposes.  The crew of the vessel is Guyanese.

The source opined that Curacao police are adamant that the gold shipment was legitimate as the required documentation and clearance for that territory were filled out but that this ignores the fact that it was likely smuggled from another country.

While reserving judgement on the stunning gold heist, President Donald Ramotar says he is disturbed at the situation as it suggests that Guyana is being robbed of revenue as a result of smuggling.

The Government Information Agency said that Ramotar was speaking on Monday to reporters. It was his first response on the matter.
Ramotar said that some international help would probably have to be requested based on press reports that the authorities on Dutch-administered Curacao are insisting that the shipment was legal.

Last Friday the vessel arrived in Curacao 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 Curacao 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 on Monday, Curacao’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 jeopardize 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.

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