NOT only is gold being smuggled out of Guyana, but the precious metal is also being smuggled into this country as well, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the US Department for Homeland Security have informed Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman.Minister Trotman made the disclosure at a press conference shared with newly-reassigned Minister within the Ministry of Natural Resources, Simona Broomes, at Cara Lodge on Quamina Street, Georgetown.
Between 50 and 60 per cent of the gold produced in Guyana is smuggled out of the country, it was disclosed. Of the more than 15,000 ounces of gold exported from Guyana on a weekly basis, all of it did not originate in Guyana.
Trotman said that, based on what came out of the meeting with the US law enforcement agencies at the Ministry of Public Security, gold is being smuggled into Guyana from Colombia and Venezuela. The systems at the border with Venezuela are weak.
The gold being smuggled into Guyana from Colombia and Venezuela, and the gold being smuggled out of Guyana, Trotman said, reaches as far as the Middle East.
And gold from Guyana is being smuggled to places such as Brazil and Suriname, where it moves on to Europe, even as there are indications that gold smuggled from Guyana is landing at the Miami International Airport and the John F. Kennedy Airport in the United States.
The Natural Resources Minister made it clear that he would not be naming anyone on the radar for gold smuggling, but confirmed that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security would be paying this country a visit, and that means there are persons locally who are in the trade and are on the radar.
Asked why the practice is still in place to issue export licenses to persons who are suspected of smuggling gold, the minister sought to explain that, rather than revoking those licences, there may be better good in working with those persons to come into conformity with the guidelines, which speak to the declaration and exportation of gold from this country.
He was however quick to say that any questions as to why in the past those persons were still issued with licences would have to be directed to his predecessor.
Asked whether he believes that lowering the royalties and taxes on gold may reduce the instances of smuggling, Minister Trotman said empirical evidence to support that notion could see an automatic rise in gold declaration.
“You have to examine the reasons why people are smuggling gold. Some of it have not only to do with a better price which can be obtained in Suriname; it has to do with hiding income from the Government to avoid taxes altogether; and other people may be using it as a means of laundering illicit or illegally obtained money,” Trotman explained.
He stressed that, based on where he sits and the findings of research which are available to him, lowering the royalties would not automatically lead to substantially high declaration, but it may lead marginally to high declaration, but that is not to say it will lead to a manifold increase, and that fact is important to note.
Minister Trotman told the media he is concerned about the people smuggling gold within the Natural Resources Sector, but he maintained that he would not be giving names of individuals and companies, as the leading agencies to deal with smuggling are the Guyana Police Force and the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU).
Trotman also reminded that a task force chaired by him has been set up to address the issue of smuggling. He indicated that once names and agencies pop up, attention would be paid to them.
The press conference was also told that approximately 451,000 ounces of gold were declared in 2015, while approximately 15,000 ounces are exported weekly. This country, he said, is still losing approximately 50/60 per cent of its total production to smuggling, according to what the US agencies representatives have said.
Trotman also told the press that his Ministry is not ruling out adding to its functions an arm that is tasked with investigating gold smuggling in and out of this country. He said he is confident that the police, which have the responsibility to investigate gold smuggling, are doing its work and that was indicative by presence of representatives of the agencies out of the United States, who had visited last year.
Trotman said the declaration of gold for 2015 was higher than the previous year, which proves that the present administration has been able to put a dent in the illegal trade.
While two major gold companies were able to record a combined declaration of approximately 41,000 ounces of gold in 2015, the local miners declared a combined target of approximately 400,000 ounces.
On the issue of reducing the instances of smuggling of gold, especially out of Guyana, the Minister had this to say.
“The (Guyana)Gold Board compound does not have the facilities to process gold; that is, to seal and we do have protocols. Gold Board officials will go to the mines, either at Aurora or Troy Resources, with GRA officials, Gold Board officials, police, and sealing is done there, then the gold is escorted to the airport or the place where it (is to be refined),” Trotman explained.
Reminded that the present arrangement has been reported as providing an opportunity for smuggling, the minister said that despite systems having been put in place to safeguard certain operations, there are always those who will try to beat the system, and when those things happen, additional measures have to be adopted to curb those practices.
He did say, however, that sealing facilities for gold — being a point of discussion — is not something that would be ruled out, but consideration has to be given to the companies which are involved, especially in the large scale operations.
Minister Trotman explained that new guidelines for persons wishing to export gold have been crafted, and the board would be meeting in the coming week to examine those guidelines.
On the issue of Guyana receiving value for money as against the concessions which are given to miners, the minister was clear in setting the records straight that the Government of Guyana does not believe that it is receiving value for the concessions which it grants to those in the mining sector.
The Minister of Finance is seeking to review concessions granted, since Guyana seems not to be benefiting the way it should from the millions in concessions that it grants to those within the mining sector.
“Concessions are granted by the Minister of Finance, and once he agreed to give concession, our function will just be to allocate the actual acreage or size of the concession and physical size of the concession. In terms of taxes and whether or not we are getting value for money, that is a matter for the Ministry of Finance, and I think that I can safely say that Guyana has not received value for what it has given up, and that is commensurate value that we may have received. So the Ministry is conducting reviews, and it will be continued this year, and much of it will be announced in the budged to be presented at the end of this month,” Trotman said.
On Sunday, the Ministry of Natural Resources would be heading to Mahdia to meet with the miners.
The team is expected to comprise Ministers Raphael Trotman, Simona Broomes and other senior officials of the ministry and the GGMC.
By Leroy Smith