U.S. had conducted a separate pre-2015 probe into gold smuggling; domestic investigation was shut down in 2020

Last Updated on Saturday, 15 June 2024, 21:31 by Writer

Mr. Raphael Trotman

Former Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman on Saturday said the United States (U.S.) had been conducting a separate investigation into gold smuggling involving Colombia, Venezuela and Guyana during the previous People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) administration.

He also said that a local investigation by the A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) coalition administration was scrapped when the PPP returned to office in 2020.

“Sometime afterwards, the Ministry of the Presidency ordered and initiated its own intelligence-led operation, with a unique sobriquet, to curb gold smuggling and transnational crime. I am reliably informed that this operation was shut down within 5 days of the new administration taking office in August, 2020,” Mr Trotman said in a statement.

He said that it appeared that the current sanctions arose out of a separate investigation that ran for more than two years, just prior to the announcements of sanctions by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

U.S. Ambassador, Nicole Theriot on Friday said the U.S. government did not share any information about the investigation into Nazar “Shell” Mohamed and his son, Azruddin, as well as Permanent Secretary Mae Thomas in keeping with the same rules that would apply in the U.S.

“They have to keep these investigations very close-hold because they can be compromised by anyone and so we tend to not share a lot of information until the investigation reaches a certain stage and so I regret that people feel they’ve been left in the dark but in the United States it would be exactly the same way. If we are conducting an investigation against someone accused of corruption in the United States, we would not share that information until the investigation were at a stage where that was possible,” she told reporters.

The U.S. Treasury Department alleged that between 2019 and 2023, Mohamed’s Enterprise allegedly omitted more than 10 thousand kilogrammes of gold from import and export declarations and avoided paying more than $50 million in duty taxes to the Government of Guyana.

Contrary to Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo’s claims that representatives of a number of Guyana government officials told him that they had no knowledge of a previous U.S. probe, Demerara Waves Online News was told that at least one top public servant of the Ministry of Natural Resources was in possession of a U.S. dossier detailing gold smuggling offences by several Guyanese. That report was also in possession of the Special Organised Crime Unit of the Guyana Police Force.

He said in 2015, himself and then Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan had received a “very sensitive” briefing by U.S. Law Enforcement Agents in 2015 about an ongoing investigation, in the U.S., in which Guyanese were supposedly involved. The former Natural Resources Minister said they were informed that that probe had started a “few years prior” to 2015 when APNU+AFC’s term of office began.

Mr Trotman said at that time U.S. agents were concerned mainly that gold mined in Guyana, Venezuela and Colombia, was being illegally shipped from, and through Guyana, to the U.S. “Most concerning, was the belief that the proceeds of the sale of this gold were financing activities that were very inimical to the security and interests of the United States. This was not an investigation into corruption only,” said Mr Trotman who studied Defense Planning & Resources Management at the U.S. National Defense University.

The then Natural Resources Minister said the U.S. agents related that they were then authorised to share such information with representatives of the then government because “in the past, there were serious concerns about confidences being kept and sensitive investigations being compromised by government of Guyana officials.”

Mr Trotman said he and Mr Ramjattan were also informed that local law enforcement agencies were to be briefed, and at the ministerial level they were given permission to speak publicly about the amount of gold that was being smuggled out of Guyana. “The sharing of that intelligence with us was just that, a briefing, and we were not asked to provide any information, or to take any action on the Guyana side. In that regard, he hoped that the U.S. government would now feel comfortable and secure in sharing ‘Top Secret’ information about ongoing operations and investigations of this nature, with our government, as they did before.

He attributed the increased gold declarations during the period 2015-2020 to work by the Guyana Gold Board.

At that time, as well, there had been growing concerns that Guyana’s spike in gold declarations was due to the purchase of the precious metal at lower prices from neighbouring Venezuela.