Peruvian customs agents seized 508 kilos of gold (worth US$18.8 million) that was suspected to have come from illicit mining in a secret operation in December. The gold was on its way to refineries in the US and Italy, by six metal export companies, which are now under investigation for money laundering.
El Comercio reports that after receiving a tip about suspicious exports, customs officials initiated an operation in a warehouse of one of the companies and seized a half ton of gold bars. The cargo was set to be moved to the airport and sent abroad.
The surprise operation sets a new precedent in the fight against illicit gold extraction, as the government has never before seized this much illicit metal. Between 2012 and 2013, only 34 kilos of gold were captured in the airports of Lima and Madre de Dios, the Inter-Oceanic highway to Brazil, and the Puno-Bolivia highway combined.
Not only that, but this is the first time that state intervention has reached the export chain of suspected illicit gold. This stage of the process has been the least regulated since the beginning of the fight against illicit mining, compared to actions against miners and gold buyers in the destroyed rainforest of Madre de Dios and the high-altitude Puno region.
The six export companies whose cargo were seized are based in Lima, Arequipa, Puno and Madre de Dios: Comercializadora de Minerales Rivero (304 kilos of gold), C.G. Koening (111.5 kilos), Mining & Energy Solutions (50.2 kilos), Giovanni Gold (18.5 kilos), Holding Minero del Perú (15.3 kilos) and Ares Gold (8.5 kilos).
After the operation, Customs officials concluded that the exporters involved failed to prove the legal origin, possession and purchase of the 508 kilos of gold. For that reason, they informed the Financial Intelligence Unit, the Money Laundering Office and the Public Ministry of the alleged money laundering.
The unexpected operation caused commotion among gold exporters, who feared their gold buying operations in Puno and the deforested Huepetuhe in Madre de Dios had been infiltrated.
El Comercio investigated the history of the six exporters and found that four of them were formed between 2011 and 2013 with money laundering that contrasts with the millions of dollars of gold they have exported since their creation. Other companies are in the heights of Ananea in Puno and the jungle of Huepetuhe.
That’s the case with the Ares Gold corporation, located in Tambopata, and under investigation since 2012 for its links with money laundering after a large amount of cash was seized. Financial authorities believe that there is capital of suspicious origin behind these companies.
El Comercio also established that the 508 kilos of metal were to be exported by air to Miami and Florence, headed for American refineries Kaloti Metals & Logistic, NTR Metals, Akam Asset and the Italian Italpreziosi. These companies have received tons of gold from Peru in 2013.
The representatives of one of the companies involved, Comercializadora de Minerales Rivero, brought legal proceedings to recover the gold seized by customs. This is the same tactic used by illicit miners in Madre de Dios, who have been able to recover large amounts of money and kilos of gold seized by the government thanks to failures on the part of local legal authorities.