Four men accused of money laundering more than $6 million worth of gold were acquitted by a Grand Court jury on Friday.
The jury returned unanimous not guilty verdicts for Daniel Alberto Aguilar Ferriozi, Antonio Di Ventura Herrera, Juan Carlos Gonzales Infante and Kody Zander.
The men were arrested after Cayman’s Customs and Border Control flagged what they deemed to be suspicious activity during two trips to Cayman. The men faced two counts of money laundering, and one count of concealing criminal property.
The first charge of money laundering alleged that between 27 May and 31 May 2019, the defendants played varying roles in laundering 140 pieces of gold in various shapes and sizes. The gold had a combined weight of 240 pounds and was worth approximately $4 million. The second charge claimed that the men laundered $2.4 million worth of gold into Cayman.
The prosecution itself acknowledged the case was based on “circumstantial evidence”.
Lead prosecutor James Hines, QC, told the jury that prosecutors could not prove where the gold came from, but that was “dirty”.
“This gold was derived directly or indirectly from crime,” said Hines. “The gold itself might be criminal property, in that it might have been stolen, or gained from an illegal mine, or it might be payment for a crime.”
The defendants denied the charges. Aguilar Ferriozi claimed that he was transporting the gold and that money for the gold originated from business ventures in his home country of Venezuela. Ventura Herrera said that while he knew about the gold, his knowledge was very limited, and he had hitched a ride on the private jet to visit his girlfriend who lived in Miami.
Gonzales Infante, the pilot of the plane, denied any knowledge of the gold and said he was simply contracted to fly the aircraft.
Caymanian Kody Zander said he understood the gold to be from a credible source, and that all the requisite paperwork was filled out. Zander said he served as a facilitator between Aguilar Ferrriozi and foreign buyers. At the start of the trial, five men were listed on the indictment. By the end of the prosecution’s submissions, Pedro Jose Benavidez Natera’s attorney successfully made a no-case-to-answer submission, and his name was removed from the indictment.
The trial, which spanned nearly three months, was plagued with delays. The initial start date was set for 25 Nov. 2019, but legal arguments surrounding what could and could not be admitted as evidence delayed the proceedings. Eventually, the trial was moved to 2 Dec., but hours before it started, the first set of jurors had to be discharged after the numbers were reduced to 11 members. The nature of the charges was so serious that the case required a jury of no fewer than 12 for it to proceed.
On Thursday morning, while Justice Cheryll Richards approached the end of her summing up, one of the jurors presented a sick note requiring that they be removed, which almost derailed the trial. In the end, the jury was allowed to deliberate. After three and half hours of deliberation, which took place over two days, they returned unanimous not guilty verdicts against all the defendants on all the charges.