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GRA denies Customs Officers’ involvement in gold smuggling; vows crackdown on smugglers

The Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) on Thursday vowed to crack down on gold smugglers, adding that Guyanese could be on the international radar to ascertain whether they were accumulating and washing ill-gotten gains.

“With pressure from the international community for countries to strengthen its legislations to guard against money laundering and the financing of terrorism, there is likely to be greater scrutiny for persons from Guyana to disclose the source of their valuable assets to US authorities,” the tax agency said in a statement.

Minister of Governance, Raphael Trotman confirmed on Thursday that the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) of the Guyana Police Force (GPF) was part of an international probe into the smuggling of millions of US dollars worth of the precious metal as “scrap gold.”

Sources estimate that about US$200 million or GUY$42 billion worth of the precious metal was smuggled to the United States (US) alone within a short timeframe.

Although the GRA said it was not responsible for monitoring Guyana’s ports for gold leaving the country, it announced plans to go after the smugglers. “From a Customs perspective, the GRA will be seeking to ascertain the perpetrators in question to determine what enforcement action will be taken in accordance with the country’s border, trade laws and regulations,”  said the GRA.

The GRA said it was perturbed about media reports that Customs Officers were turning a blind eye to the smuggling of the precious yellow metal. Rather, the GRA rejected claims that Customs Officers were involved in facilitating the multimillion dollar smuggling operation through the Cheddi Jagan and Ogle International Airports as well as by sea. Back in  2012 about 476 pounds of gold worth US$11.5 million that originated from Guyana were stolen from a Guyana-registered cargo vessel in Curacao.

“Customs Officers at the CJIA do not monitor outgoing passengers’ baggage,” said the GRA. Instead, the agency said that activity is monitored solely by the Customs Anti Narcotics Unit (CANU), the Criminal Investigation Department and Special Branch of the Guyana Police Force and airport security personnel. “In the event of any discovery, Customs is notified by the relevant agency,” the GRA added.

Based on its previous experiences in the past where the integrity of the GRA was compromised by officers within the Authority who have been in collusion with unscrupulous characters, fervent efforts have been made to hold officers accountable to standard operational procedures.

“Moreover, based on the roles and responsibilities of customs officers, particularly at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) and other ports of entry, it is quite baffling to the Authority that officers would be embroiled in the illegal gold smuggling ring. Nevertheless it is GRA’s view that every person or agency in question should cooperate with the authorities and avoid speculation,” said the tax agency.

The Authority said part of the responsibilities of Customs officers at the CJIA include the monitoring of the duty free shop, the incoming and outgoing desk, and the movement and transhipment of cargo.

The GRA explained: In accordance with the law, passengers with gold worn jewellery are not required to make a declaration providing that it does not exceed a certain value. On the other hand those in possession of raw and scrap gold and those with gold in commercial quantities, must make the required declarations. In such instances, the declaration must be accompanied by an approved import licence and permission from the Guyana Gold Board with an attachment stating the price, weight and other particulars of the shipper and consignee.

There is therefore a likelihood that because of the foregoing provisions, there would be an enticement to smuggle items as worn jewellery in an attempt to elude Customs officials. As such, the support from other enforcement agencies such as the Customs Anti Narcotics Unit (CANU) would be integral given the pervasive nature of smuggling.”