Gold bars found in Puerto Rico point to Curacao heist

Eleven gold bars were found by US border patrol authorities last month at an airport in Puerto Rico and the precious metal is believed to have been part of the November 30 heist aboard a Guyanese boat in the Dutch island of Curacao.

There had been earlier reports that gold from the mind-boggling US$11.5M heist had made its way to the US but there had been no confirmed reports until a statement on Tuesday by the US Customs and Border Protection. Puerto Rico is an unincorporated US territory.

The agency said in a press release that the gold bars were found last month at the Rafael Hernández International Airport in the western city of Aguadilla. They had been shipped in boxes from Curacao.

Authorities said that the 11 bars weigh a total of approximately 34.7 kilogrammes (76.3 pounds) and have a total value of around US$1.7 million at the current gold price.

“We’re not going to tolerate the introduction of contraband into our jurisdiction, whether it be narcotics or any other type,” said the director of field operations for the CBP for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, Marcelino Borges in the statement.

The gold bars were turned over to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is investigating the matter.

Around 70 bars of gold were believed to have been seized from the boat with a Guyanese crew and six persons have been detained in Curacao over the matter. The gold is believed to have been smuggled from Guyana but local authorities have not said whether there are pursuing any leads here. They are awaiting documentation from Curacao before releasing the details of a visit to the island by two officials of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission in the wake of the heist.

The Associated Press said that the customs inspectors noted that the packages that arrived in the Caribbean island in mid-December were “unusually heavy,” and flagged them for inspection before confiscating the bars as suspected contraband.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Ivan Ortiz was quoted by AP as saying that the source of the gold is under investigation. He declined to say whether officials suspect it came from the Nov. 30 heist in Curacao where gunmen disguised as police snatched the bars.

Curacao police spokesman Reginald Huggins said authorities there have six suspects in custody  and have recovered some of the gold. They were held on December 27, 2012.

On January 8, Huggins told Stabroek News by phone that the  six suspects, one from Bonaire, two from Venezuela and the others from Curacao,   remain in the custody of  police for the daring heist. He also stated that a quantity of gold had been confiscated during the operation which led to their arrests.

While Huggins said he did not have any new information on the case and that it was an ongoing investigation he explained that the six can remain in custody for up to 56 days before charges are laid or they are released. If Police show reason why they should be held longer this can also be done, he stated.

Huggins told Stabroek News that the vessel remains docked on the island but he did not know anything about the crew. Early in the investigation he had told Stabroek News that the crewmen had been ruled out as suspects and were free to leave the island at any time of their choice.

Alliance For Change Leader Khemraj Ramjattan has accused the government of not saying all it knows about the Curacao heist.  He told Stabroek News that he was not accepting that enough was being done to learn the truth and that there was a legitimate wait on documentation to ascertain the gold source.



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