VP Jagdeo hints at “more severe” penalties for gold smugglers

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana

Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo has hinted at the possibility of more severe penalties being instituted against gold smugglers as efforts are being continued to clamp down on the illegal activity.

Reports of gold smuggling activities, costing the state millions in revenue, have been surfacing throughout the year, and according to the Vice President, “I would even advocate that we amend the law to institute even more severe penalties on people who have done this, or who are doing this.”

Last October, Government announced it was investigating reports of gold smuggling/illegal trade in light of diminishing gold declarations that were at odds with the investments being made in the sector.

At a press conference on Thursday, VP Jagdeo disclosed that a lot of work has been done by local law enforcement agencies, and they will now be going after the perpetrators.

“We believe now that we have enough evidence about some of the people who are involved, and you are going to see additional activities against them…I just want to forewarn those again who have been engaged in this practice that we know who you are – at least some of the key players – and the law enforcement agencies of the Government are coming after you…So, if you’re doing this, desist from doing it, because the full force of the law would be instituted against you,” he warned.

Further, the Vice President noted that the recent bust at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) was just a “tiny manifestation” of these efforts.

On Monday, two US citizens and one Guyanese were intercepted with US$560,000 worth of raw gold at the airport at Timehri. The Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) reported that customs officers, with the support of officers attached to the Natural Resources Ministry and the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU), unearthed 240 ounces of pure (raw) gold disguised as silver-plated jewellery on outgoing passengers on an American Airlines’ flight to JFK Airport in New York. The gold was confiscated after the three passengers were unable to produce the required permit and declaration to customs officials.

On Thursday, the three suspects: Ian Jacobis, 44, of Plantation Best, West Coast Demerara, along with US-based Shameena Ahamad, 52, and her 34-year-old daughter Ashiana Salamaly, both of Roraima Scheme, West Bank Demerara, were arraigned in a magistrate’s court charged for the offence of exporting gold without a licence – in contravention of Section 8 of the Guyana Gold Board Act, Chapter 66:01, and contrary to section 23 (a) of the said Guyana Gold Board Act, Chapter 66:01. They have all been placed on bail.

According to the Vice President, this discovery was intelligence-led, and the authorities knew smugglers “were coating the gold with silver and taking it out the country…“A lot of intelligence work has been done by the law enforcement agencies to understand [the smuggling trends and track] the people who are involved; and they’re going to face the consequences,” the VP has said.

Moreover, Jagdeo reiterated concerns over the continued increasing trend of people not making the required declaration of raw gold to the Guyana Gold Board (GGB), which is costing the state a loss in revenue. This practice, he noted, has also affected the local market.

“We believe it was organized, and it was having an impact because many of the illegitimate dealers were saying to us that people were offering rates beyond what the market can sustain, even beyond what the international market price was…and clearly there was a demand for the gold for other purposes. We believe (it was used) to externalize maybe ill-gotten proceeds,” he said.

“But we’re going after the people who are doing it…and we are dead serious about it. There has been a lot of quiet work by law enforcement agencies, and the people who are involved, they’re going to feel the full weight of the law enforcement agencies and the laws of Guyana,” the VP has cautioned.

In July 2023, reports surfaced that the federal authorities in Brazil had launched an investigation into a Guyanese businessman suspected of laundering millions worth of illegally-mined gold into that country.

The probe was initiated after authorities had discovered the involvement of an alleged Guyanese businessman who has ties to the gold mining industry in Guyana conducting business in Brazil under suspicious circumstances.

Reports are that Federal Police agents suspected that the Guyanese businessman has a Brazilian partner who aids in the movement of funds through the companies.

Last October, the Ministry of Natural Resources reminded miners that they are required to sell all the gold they find to licensed gold dealers/traders, or to the Guyana Gold Board. It also reminded them that it is illegal to purchase gold without the requisite licence.

According to the Ministry, the relevant agencies are tasked with ensuring the laws surrounding the selling of gold are upheld; and further, an investigation has been launched into the disparity in gold declarations and investments.

The Bank of Guyana (BoG) reported in its 2023 Annual Report that total gold declarations contracted by 11.2 per cent to 432,113.2 ounces, reflecting a decline in production by small and medium-scale miners and an increase in the sole operating foreign company.

According to the Central Bank, the volume of gold exported had diminished by 9.5 per cent or 45,874.2 ounces to 437,060 ounces as a result of lower declarations.

Earlier in the year, in its 2023 first quarter statistical report on the performance of the economy, the BoG had reported that gold declarations had decreased by 5.3 per cent when compared to the same period last year.

For 2022, the total gold declaration was 486,415 ounces; in 2021, it was 499,054 ounces; 2020 recorded 584,291 ounces, and 2019 recorded some 634,905 ounces.