Gold was drugs profit, say UK officials

| 21/07/2019
Cayman News Service
Gold found at Heathrow Airport (Photo courtesy NCA)

(CNS): The UK’s National Crime Agency has said the gold that passed through the Cayman Islands earlier this year is associated with a South American drug cartel. Four men have already been arrested and charged here in connection with the shipments and cash found hidden in a private aircraft that brought the gold to Cayman before it was moved to London. But in a press release, the UK crime fighters who are helping the Cayman authorities with the probe said they have now seized more than $6 million worth of gold under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Officers from the UK Border Force Agency detained one shipment at London’s Heathrow Airport in June after the Cayman Islands authorities began their investigation into a private jet that had arrived from Venezuela. The two pilots were arrested after $135,000 in cash was found hidden under the flooring on the jet. Later, two men who were on the plane as passengers were charged initially with money laundering offences and later with smuggling after their accounts about the gold shipments were called into question.

The gold is at the heart of the cross-border investigation. According to the UK agency, it includes bars and pieces of gold which collectively weigh around 104 kilos or 230lbs.

Commander Steve McIntyre, from the NCA Heathrow branch, which is heading the investigation in London, said, “We believe that this shipment was linked to drugs cartels operating out of South America. Working with partners overseas and in the UK, we were quickly able to identify it and stop its onward movement.

“The business model of many organised crime groups relies upon the ability to move money across borders, to fund further investment in criminal activity. If we can stop that it not only causes disruption to the criminal network involved and prevents them benefiting from crime, it also stops that re-investment,” he added.

Nick Jariwalla, Border Force Heathrow Director, said seizing the proceeds hits the criminal networks where they feel it most, in the pocket. “This was a substantial seizure and demonstrates how effectively Border Force works with law enforcement partners, both at home and abroad, to combat organised crime,” he added.

Meanwhile, the two Venezuelan men, Daniel Aguailar Feriozzi (25) and Fransisco de Ventura Herrera (26), who were on the plane and took the gold to Byzantium, a local broker, before it was shipped off to London, have been charged with possession of criminal property and engaging in smuggling. They are next due in court on Wednesday, 31 July. Both men are currently on bail.

The plane’s pilot, Juan Carlos Gonzales Infante, and co-pilot, Pedro Jose Benavidez Natera, who were charged with smuggling the cash found inside the aircraft, have been held on remand. Since their trial was postponed, it is understood they are seeking another bail application hearing .

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