The Netherlands and the United States on the trail of gold smuggled from Venezuela

MIAMI, WILLEMSTAD - Three money laundering cases expose the route of corruption followed to remove the precious metal from the Arco Minero in Venezuela. These three cases of money laundering provide clues about the mechanisms currently applied by criminal networks to extract gold from the Mining Arco, and subsequently place it on international markets.

Two cases were heard in courts of the state of Florida (USA), while the third trial began in Curaçao, and in June it reached a final decision in the Supreme Court of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

All the cases have as common factors that the precious metal is extracted from mines located in Bolívar state in Venezuela. From there it is carried by air or by sea to Curaçao, where the destination in which it will be sold is defined, often using documents that conceal the true origin of the shipments.

According to a statement from the special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) William Donaldson, the smugglers do not declare that the gold comes from Venezuela, since in this way they circumvent an Executive Order issued in November 2018 by the then President Donald Trump, who expressly prohibited any dealings with this precious metal, if it comes from the country governed by Nicolás Maduro.

Agent Donaldson issued this statement to support an accusation of money laundering against Jesús Gabriel Rodríguez JR, who until this year served as president of Transvalue INC, a company dedicated to the transportation of securities in Florida.

The investigation against Rodríguez JR and Transvalue is connected to another investigation into the activities of the NTR company, which refined gold taken from Venezuela on US soil, knowing that it was contraband. NTR is a registered firm in Texas, but has offices in Doral, where Transvalue's offices are also located, according to Florida corporation records.

Several agencies contributed to raising the information that gave rise to both lawsuits. As stated by the FBI agent, NTR imported thousands of kilos of Venezuelan gold between March 2015 and September 2016, for a total value of 141 million dollars. But, if they go back to 2013, the value of what was handled would be 3.6 billion dollars.

“At every opportunity, the same gold was reported to Customs as if it had left Curaçao, and days later it was reported as having left the Cayman Islands,” he explained.

The gold acquired by NTR in Curaçao was moved by Transvalue trucks from Miami International Airport to a company participating in the scheme, and from there back to the air terminal, where it would be shipped to the Cayman Islands to carry out a triangulation. The gold ended up in the US, and NTR made large transfers to those involved in the entire supply chain, from the mines in Bolívar state.

In a first trial, sentenced in 2017, the NTR representatives acknowledged guilt regarding the lack of mechanisms to prevent money laundering, and agreed to pay a fine of 15 million dollars, in addition to offering full cooperation in the investigations that would come later.

Moles in the refinery

The FBI recruited three confidential informants (moles) at the refining company. One of them claimed that an unidentified company still supplied gold from the Cayman Islands, originating from Curaçao.

“However, as Curaçao has no mines, the co-conspirators understood that the gold was probably brought to Curaçao from Venezuela. In fact, for this reason - the probability that the gold would be illegally mined and smuggled from Venezuela - NTR would not accept gold which records indicate that it left Curaçao,” explained Donaldson.

Testimony from another informant reported on telephone conversations in which NTR executives commented that gold traded in Curaçao often smelled like fuel," suggesting that it had been stored in a gas tank and brought to Curaçao in a boat."

But the Curaçao networks also took the trouble to hide the origin of the gold. In June, the Dutch Supreme Court upheld the judgments issued in 2020 against two individuals accused of laundering money from smuggling and subsequent sale of 1.2 tons of gold.

The judges came to the conviction that the Curaçaoans fully knew the origin of the metal, and yet they presented documents to the authorities indicating that it had emerged from mines in Colombia.

According to the ruling, to hide the illegal origin of the funds generated by this activity, various “shady” intermediaries were used.

"A large portion of the sales proceeds were transferred to six Panamanian money brokers with bank accounts in the United States, after which the additional flow of the money could not be traced," the document states.

In the case of Curaçao, there is also a ban on trading Venezuelan gold, issued through a “ministerial regulation” dated June 21, 2019.

In the investigation of this file, Venezuelans who were engaged in transporting gold to the islands of the Dutch Caribbean were questioned. One of them specified that it came directly from Venezuelan mines, or "was melted by jewelers."

“I don't know of companies that openly provide valuable transportation from Venezuela to Curaçao. If we can avoid reporting the gold shipment to customs, we will. In Venezuela, 25% of crimes are committed by the police (…) If customs notice that you have gold with you, you have to pay a bribe. You have to pay bribes so you don't have to pay export duties. If you do it the right way, you will have to pay export duties and bribes. If you do it the wrong way, you only pay the bribe, or nothing at all, if you don't get caught,” he said.

In this case, the gold shipments were also brought in boats to Aruba or Curaçao. From there, it was exported by jets to Antwerp, with forged documentation.

Caribbean traders acknowledged that they earned 2.5% on the traded value of Venezuelan gold.

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