Cayman leading multinational gold smuggling inquiry

$4 million gold seizure linked to Cayman investigation

Gold seized by UK officers on 1 June - Photo: National Crime Agency

The seizure of more than $4 million worth of gold at London’s Heathrow airport was the result of intelligence from a Cayman Islands-led smuggling investigation.

The 230lbs of doré gold – a semi pure alloy of gold and silver – confiscated at Heathrow made world headlines after it was revealed by the UK National Crime Agency at the weekend.

But it is just one part of a complex, multinational investigation that began with the seizure of a small private plane in Grand Cayman.

The smuggling inquiry now involves investigators in Panama and the US as well as the UK and Cayman.

Police and border control officers in Cayman began the inquiry in May into criminal gangs they believed were involved in money laundering and smuggling gold through the Cayman Islands to Europe, according to a press release issued by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service Tuesday.

As part of that investigation a private plane was intercepted at Owen Roberts International Airport. A large quantity of cash was found hidden inside the plane, which was seized and impounded in Cayman.

Four Venezuelan nationals were arrested and charged with being engaged in smuggling in relation to the inquiry. Two of the men have also been charged with money laundering. All four have been remanded in custody in the Cayman Islands after preliminary appearances in Summary Court.

The UK-based National Crime Agency revealed this weekend that it had seized more than 230lbs of gold at Heathrow, thought to originate from a South American drug cartel operation that used Cayman as a stopping point.

“It was being transported from the Cayman Islands to Switzerland, having earlier been shipped to the Caymans on a private jet which had arrived from Venezuela,” an NCA press release read.

“The gold is now the subject of a money laundering investigation being run by the Cayman authorities, with the assistance of the NCA.”

Police in Cayman clarified Tuesday that the gold seized at Heathrow  – moved as freight on a UK bound flight – was directly linked to the investigation taking place in Cayman.

“The investigation established that two consignments of doré gold had transited the Cayman Islands en route to the United Kingdom. The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service and Cayman Islands Customs and Border Control requested the assistance of the UK National Crime Agency to intercept the shipments,” the press release stated.

Both shipments were subsequently confiscated by UK authorities and have now been formally seized by court order under the UK Proceeds of Crime Act.

Derek Byrne, Commissioner of Police in Cayman, said, “The disruption of criminal asset flows and international money laundering activity is a powerful way to fight organised crime networks, and we are committed to preventing such asset flows through the jurisdiction of the Cayman Islands. Close and mutual cooperation with international law enforcement, as demonstrated in this case, is absolutely essential to the reach and effectiveness of our collective efforts.”