GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) — The U.S. government is helping Guyana crack down on a massive smuggling operation that ships gold to New York, Miami, Europe and other countries in South America, authorities said Thursday.
Guyanese Mining Minister Raphael Trotman said the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security are helping track down the money generated by the smugglers. Guyana estimates that some 15,000 troy ounces of raw gold are smuggled out of the country each week via planes and boats, representing roughly 50 to 60 percent of production mined by its small- and medium-scale miners. Gold is Guyana's main export.
Trotman said the U.S. agencies reached out after they noticed large amounts of gold were being declared at American ports but not in Guyana.
Sydney James, who oversees Guyana's Special Organized Crime Unit, said several suspects have already been prosecuted and that several more cases will be filed soon.
"We are now getting information we had always wanted from the federal agencies," he said. "All the relevant departments are cooperating with us."
Miners Association spokesman Colin Sparman blamed the smuggling operation on buyers who fly to jungle mining camps with large suitcases of cash and offer miners higher prices than the government's gold board.
"Sometimes miners do sell to them in a hardship situation where they need fuel or cash, but we tell miners to sell to the board or to licensed buyers," Sparman said.
Small miners earned $500 million from 451,000 ounces sold to the government board last year.
Guyana's gold exports generated nearly $1 billion in revenue in 2013. However, the price of gold slid to a six-year low in 2015 amid a sluggish global economy.