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Guilty pleas entered in South American rainforest gold laundering cases

Bricks of processed gold. Photo via Pixabay.

Bricks of processed gold. Photo via Pixabay.

  • Two Miami businessmen have pleaded guilty in federal court to their part in a $3.6 billion money laundering scheme involving gold.
  • Illegally mined gold was used to “wash” money made from the sale of cocaine.
  • The profits from the gold was in the billions and also came at the cost of the Amazon rainforest.

A high-profile case involving money, gold and cocaine has come to an end for two Miami businessmen. Samer Barrage and Juan Granda pleaded guilty in Miami federal court on September 5 to their part in a $3.6 billion money laundering case. They were arrested and charged earlier this year.

Granda, 35, is a U.S. citizen born in Ecuador and worked for NTR Metals, which is owned by Dallas-based precious minerals trading company Elemental. Barrage, 43, is also a U.S. citizen. Neither could be reached for comment.

According to U.S. Customs records reviewed by the Miami Herald, NTR managed to funnel $3.6 billion worth of illegal gold to through the U.S. in order to launder cocaine profits. The complaint filed by Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI also reviewed by the Herald, they used a “shifting array of Latin American countries” to move the gold.

The case has had reverberations across the precious metals industry.

One of the smugglers involved in the case told authorities that he alone managed to smuggle 4,000 pounds of gold out of Chile that was illegally mined. The price per ounce of gold as of September 9 is $1349. That is almost $220 per ounce more than at the end of 2016.  An analysis of the smuggler testimony by Forbes noted that the smuggler said he was also briefed on smuggling practices in the US.

Prosecutors have said that the gold was sourced in the Amazon rainforest, refined, sold, and then the profit was wired to drug traffickers and other criminals in South America. Operations also allegedly closely involved narco-traffickers who wanted to turn cocaine profits into cash.

South America’s Amazon rainforest has a long, dark history of illegal gold mining, which is known to cause massive pollution and deforestation. There are often serious environmental and health consequences for the flora and fauna, water and people in illegally mined areas.

Authorities have been working to crack down on illegal gold mining, but the scale of the problem in the Amazon rainforest is daunting. In 2016, Mongabay reported that in just one part of the Peruvian rainforest, a swath as big as 10 Manhattans has been lost to illegal gold mining.

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