Guyana gold shipments were suspended after charges laid against local dealer

Saddiqi Rafeek Mohamad Rasul

All gold shipments from Guyana were suspended for a brief period last year by the Royal Canadian Mint (RCM) after charges were instituted against a local gold dealer. 

“By now it is well known that this country teetered perilously close to being blacklisted due to foreign money laundering concerns.  In fact, in May 2017 all gold shipments from the GGB (in effect, Guyana) were suspended indefinitely by the Royal Canadian Mint (RCM), its internationally renowned refiner.  That suspension of shipments was prompted by charges instituted against, and related media coverage involving, one of its customers,” the Guyana Gold Board (GGB) said in a column that was published last Thursday in the Stabroek News.

“Vigorous representations and firm commitments resulted in the conditional lifting of that suspension,” the GGB added.

It noted that at that time, gold was the major foreign exchange earner in the local economy. “Gold, also, has a proven history as being the ideal cover for money laundering objectives. Thus, it should not startle that multiple foreign watchdog agencies harbour serious reservations about the local gold sector, and a not inconsiderable number of its active and silent presences,” it added.

The GGB also said that for “foreign sentinels,” the troubling concerns are: a) source of gold; b) source of funds; and c) legitimacy of presences in the sector. “All of these pose major reputational risks for Guyana,” it noted.

The timing of the suspension suggests that it resulted from the charges that were laid against Saddiqi Rafeek Mohamad Rasul, who was charged in April last year with defrauding a local commercial bank of a total of $956 million.

It was alleged that between March 21st and March 22nd, 2017, at Bartica, with intent to defraud, Rasul obtained from Guyana Bank of Trade and Industry (GBTI) $96 million, $290 million, $89 million, $45 million, $298 million and $138 million by falsely pretending that he had cash in a Citizens Bank account to honour corresponding Citizens Bank cheques.

Rasul, the owner of SSS Minerals Trading, pleaded not guilty to all six of the charges.

It is alleged that the bank manager was involved in allowing Rasul to withdraw the millions of dollars in cash. The cheques later bounced owing to insufficient funds and the police were called in.

In July last year, the GGB hosted a visiting RCM team from its refining partners.

The Ministry of Natural Resources had said in a press statement than that Steve Higgins, Director, Storage and Refining Solutions, led the team, which included Derek Hall, Manager of Compliance. “The scope and focus weighed heavily on GGB’s policies and procedures relative to anti-money laundering supervision and the source of gold purchased,” the ministry explained.  “The principal objective [of the visit] was to foster a level of assurance on the robustness of oversight processes of all gold declared from mine to market,” it added.

According to the statement, the RCM’s team reviewed GGB’s files, interviewed employees, visited a gold dealer, and met with members of the agency’s board of directors. It added that Higgins, in a subsequent meeting with Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman, had indicated that he was pleased with some of the due diligence efforts implemented at the GGB, and the other strides embarked upon to tighten existing GGB Anti-Money Laundering/Combatting the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) policies and procedures and adherence to them. “Higgins articulated that this was positive and bodes well for strengthening the longstanding RCM-GGB relationship of over thirty years.  Both parties agreed that there is work that remains to be done in several areas, and which must be pursued diligently,” the statement added.

Additionally, the statement said the GGB’s Chairman, GHK Lall noted that, amidst the positives and developing  comfort levels attained with GGB’s AML compliance efforts and overall supervision, there is room for improvement through increased monitoring and greater reconciliation with sister organisation the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), where RCM also held discussions. Both the chairman and Eondrene Thompson, acting GGB General Manager, committed to continuing efforts to remedy existing shortfalls, it further said.  

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