Gov’t doing its best to trace origin of Curacao gold, says Ramotar

-bars may have been smuggled to Puerto Rico

President Donald Ramotar yesterday said government is doing its best to trace the origin of the gold stolen from a Guyanese boat in Curacao last November.

“We are trying our best to see how we can get more information to really ascertain where this came from… Nobody has gone to claim the gold and so forth as yet. We are still trying to work to get more info on what is happening,” Ramotar said at a press conference.

His statement came just days after it was disclosed that 11 gold bars werefound by US border patrol authorities last month at an airport in Puerto Rico, leading to suspicions that they were stolen in the November 30, 2012 heist from a Guyanese boat that was docked in the Dutch island.

An official of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) had told Stabroek News that the report of the two officials who visited Curacao was not yet completed. In addition to waiting on that report, both Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee and Minister of Natural Resources Robert Persaud have said that they are awaiting documents from Curacao, through the International Police Organisation (Interpol), to ascertain Guyana’s potential link, but so far no information has been forthcoming.

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

Around 70 bars of gold were reported to have been seized from the boat with a Guyanese crew and six persons had 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.

According to the Associated Press, customs inspectors noted that the packages that arrived in Puerto Rico in mid-December were “unusually heavy,” and flagged them for inspection before confiscating the bars as suspected contraband.

US 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 suspected it came from the Curacao heist, where gunmen disguised as police officers had 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 the police. 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.

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 there was a legitimate wait on documentation to ascertain the gold’s source.

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