CULIACAN, Mexico (AP) — The head of the mining company robbed of $8.5 million in gold in Mexico made the rare revelation in a television interview that his company has a "good relationship" with area drug traffickers.
Rob McEwen, president and chairman of Canada-based McEwen Mining Inc., said in an interview Thursday with Canada's Business News Network that company employees ask the drug cartels for permission before they explore.
"Generally we've had a good relationship with them (the cartels)," McEwen said. "If we want to go explore somewhere you ask them and they tell you, 'No.' But then they'll say 'Come back,' in a couple of weeks; 'We've finished what we're doing.'"
He said the company had not suffered any other crime beyond the robbery of the gold. McEwen said the mining company operates in the foothills, and more problems occur higher in the mountains.
The theft of 900 kilograms (1,984 pounds) of gold-bearing concentrate containing 7,000 ounces of gold occurred Tuesday at El Gallo 1 mine in the western state of Sinaloa, which is controlled by a powerful cartel of the same name.
At no time, however, did McEwen say the company had paid criminal organizations, a common suspicion in areas where anyone doing business is often a target of extortion.
Authorities in Sinaloa have said that so far the theft suggests the involvement of employees or former workers who understand the company's operations.
Sinaloa's deputy attorney general, Martin Robles Armenta, told reporters that one reason investigators suspect an inside job is that the door to vault where the material was stored had been left open since the previous day. Also, the theft was not immediately reported to police.
The thieves overpowered two employees initially who had keys to various parts of the site, Robles said. He added that they used at least two vehicles to remove the material.
McEwen said several members of the mine's security personnel were taken by gunmen on their way to work in the dark. He estimated there were eight masked and heavily armed robbers. They captured more security personnel and locked them in the compound's lunch room. No one was seriously injured.
The robbers left with 700 ounces of gold in concentrate form — black powder that would have to be melted down to get the gold.
McEwen called it "very well planned" and said a month's worth of production was taken. The Toronto-based company has operations in Mexico, Nevada and Argentina.
It is the third hit against mining interests in Mexico in recent months.
In February, suspected drug traffickers kidnapped some workers from a highway leading to the Media Luna mine owned by Torex Gold Resources in the southern state of Guerrero. The workers were later released.
After the kidnapping, community police in the town of Nuevo Balsas demanded increased security, both for the mine and the entire community.
In March, the Mexican Mining Chamber said that three miners from the Los Filos mine, also in Guerrero, had been killed after being kidnapped. The mine is operated by the Canada-based GoldCorp. The company said the victims were employees, but were not working or traveling to the mine when they were taken hostage.