Stolen Curacao gold was definitely from Guyana, Trotman says

– local probe into illicit exports proceeding

The 476 pounds of gold stolen during an armed robbery in Curaçao in November 2012 definitely came from Guyana, according to Minister of Governance Raphael Trotman who said that a report compiled by Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) officials who had travelled to the Dutch island contained nothing useful.

To date the face behind the gold shipment said to be worth US$11.5 million is unknown and based on what Trotman said the Curaçao officials were most unhelpful in this regard.

“Yes I don’t think there is any doubt that the gold came from Guyana. In fact as I said the official in Curaçao said that they were formally notified or officially notified that there would be a shipment of gold passing through,” he said when recently asked whether it was clearly established that the gold came from Guyana.

Raphael Trotman
Raphael Trotman

Following the theft, the GGMC had dispatched teams to Curaçao and neighbouring Suriname in the hope of tracing the origin of the gold. The former natural resources ministry had stated back then that from all available information, the gold bars were not from Guyana, but later there was a shift in that position as the GGMC probe found that more than likely the gold originated from here.

Asked about the report submitted at the end of the probe, Trotman said he had received a copy. “It is quite sparse. It doesn’t point fingers at anyone and it doesn’t take me much further because it was just a report,” he stressed while adding that he is due to have discussions with US officials within the next two weeks on the issue.

The report, which Trotman has described as “an in-house report that was produced,” was handed over to former president Donald Ramotar but when the APNU+AFC coalition took office it was missing. Trotman had said last month that there was an exchange of correspondence and his ministry was supposed to be getting it.

When quizzed, Trotman said the report was found among files belong to the GGMC and the former ministry of natural resources and the environment.

Asked what he made of this “sparse” report, Trotman said, “One of the things that surprised me was…when [the team] landed in Curaçao they were told that there was no investigation regarding movement of gold; there was an investigation re-garding a robbery because in the opinion of the authorities in Curaçao the gold was legally landed because a few days before they were formally notified that they would be a shipment of gold transiting through Curaçao.”

According to Trotman, no names were mentioned and the report in his possession said that when “requests were made to provide the information about this official notification the people in Curaçao kinda froze up.”

Trotman reiterated that information as to who was responsible for the shipment was not forthcoming, according to the report.

A few months ago the APNU+AFC government began a high-level investigation into reports of rampant gold smuggling. Gold, it is strongly believed, is smuggled across the borders making its way to China, Europe and the Middle East as well as to the North.

In this regard, Trotman said that in the coming weeks he will be having discussions with foreign agencies. He said he has already met and spoken with the Minister of Natural Resources in Suriname. “He and I are to meet again soon,” he said, noting that the meeting could be held either in Guyana or Suriname.

Asked whether he will extend discussions to his counterparts in Venezuela and Brazil, his position was that this was not immediate as “right now we are seeing that a greater movement of our gold is going via Suriname and to Europe.”

He said the matter of where the proceeds from the smuggled gold end up is out of his hands and is probably an issue that should be taken up by other jurisdictions. He said that when you are dealing with illicit transnational crimes, “You look at all of the streams and in fact illicit gain is used to finance anything from terrorism to murder and so one has to be concerned about all of this.”

Asked if terrorism was an element of the gold smuggling business that Guyana was concerned about, he said to the extent that gold or any asset or resource of Guyana could be used in that regard, “That is a matter of concern for us.”

He said government is not aware of this element showing up anywhere right now. “But I can’t rule in or rule out anything,” he stressed.

It had been revealed that a task force was to be established to examine the gold smuggling issue as well as boost inter-agency cooperation.

Trotman, in the recent interview, confirmed that the task force has been established and has been meeting. He made it clear that the task force is not one that is meant to be too much in the media because of security and other reasons.

Noting that the issue concerns billions of dollars, the minister said persons have complained about being threatened. “The people who are involved in gold smuggling have something to protect but the task force has been meeting,” he said.

Asked about the makeup of the unit he said the representatives are from the Ministry of Natural Resources, from environment and governance, Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU), the Guyana Revenue Authority, the Guyana Gold Board, the GGMC and the State Assets Recovery Unit.

In 2012 the gold was stolen from a Guyanese fishing boat – Summer Bliss in Curaçao.

News agency Amigoe had reported that six men carrying guns, wearing masks and hoodies along with police jackets, stormed the boat. At gunpoint, they pushed the 51-year-old captain as well as the three Guyanese crewmen onto the ground. The robbers knew their way around the vessel as they walked directly to the three metal boxes with the gold bars and spent only five minutes removing them.

Trotman has acknowledged that the government is aware that there was rampant gold smuggling prior to taking office.

It is suspected that the gold stolen in Curaçao was smuggled to Suriname in batches over a period of time after which it was melted into gold bars, loaded in the Summer Bliss and transported to the Dutch territory.

Based on the information this newspaper received, the vessel was on its way to Miami but made a stop in Curaçao probably to refuel and was given clearance by the authorities in that country.

SOCU head, Assistant Superintendent Sydney James had told Stabroek News that there was evidence of a large-scale network involving several locally-registered mining companies in the smuggling of gold through the country’s major ports. “Based on information gathered, we suspect a number of major networks/individuals are engaged in this practice… there are hundreds of people…some are well-established businesses licensed to export gold,” he had said.

According to James, this network involves hundreds of persons and the information circulating is that among those who are being linked to the probe are well-established businesses and persons in the mining sector. The US has already revoked the visas of some of the suspected smugglers.

Head of the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) Patrick Harding has since distanced small miners from the gold smuggling saying that “big players” have hijacked the mining industry and are the ones behind the large-scale smuggling of gold.

Earlier this month, US Ambassador Perry Holloway had disclosed that the United States was preparing an assistance package after it was approached by the Guyana government for help.