Free Zone rejects reports that it is a hub for gold smuggling

597Views 0Comments Posted 21/01/2023


Accusations by the OECD that the Colon Free Zone (ZLC) serves as a transit for gold smuggling from other countries in the region, have been strongly rejected by the private sector

According to a Bloomberg Línea publication, the OECD report entitled "Free Zones and Illicit Gold Flows in Latin America and the Caribbean", published  in December, the country is "an important transit center for a series of goods, including smuggled gold from other countries in the region.”

“In addition to the magnitude of its operations, the ZLC “has a long history as a center for illicit trade and trade-based money laundering. Several gold-related cases over the years have implicated actors operating there”; smuggling through jewelry is something "remarkable," the outlet said.

And, they project an increase in the transfer of gold with the reactivation of the gold mine in Cerro Molejón, Donoso, Colón, at the hands of the company Broadway Strategic Metals, an area previously exploited by Petaquilla Gold In 2021, the OECD published the report "Gold flows from Venezuela, support for due diligence on the production and trade of gold in Venezuela", where they explain that the gold that leaves Venezuela is apparently laundered in countries of the Americas. Latin and the Caribbean. These were identified as Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Surinam, Guyana, and Panama.

There is ample prospect for further investigation into possible flows of Venezuelan gold through Panama, and in particular the ZLC, could deserve special scrutiny. It has a long history serving as a transit hub for gold, although some sources indicate that greater coordination in law enforcement between Panama, Colombia, and the United States has increased risks for smugglers," the OECD report noted.

The report cites a case from August 2019, with the "Esplendor" operation carried out by the Colombian authorities, which after three years led to the arrest of several people involved in the smuggling of over $5 million in gold from Colombia to Panama.

Faced with accusations that the main free zone in the Western Hemisphere with movements of over $18 billion is used to smuggle gold, the president of the ZLC Users Association Severo Sousa, said that import handling, export, and re-export of precious metals are very strict, and they rely on the reputation of companies like Brinks.

“The OECD statements seem like urban tales. It is as if it were based on rumors and not on a real investigation”, said  Sousa. He questioned the documents on which the OECD is based, since once smuggling is detected, these cases are documented to be brought to trial, and there are no such processes.

"The adaptations of the OECD on the illicit issue of gold or money laundering in the Free Zone are highly contradictory and illogical,", Tayra Barsallo, general administrator of the National Customs Authority (ANA), clarified that the only registered cases of smuggling of gold or precious metals are specific, and have occurred in some ports of entry and exit with passengers who do not declare the value of the jewels that acquired in the free zones.

The Organization of American States (OAS) has also reviewed the issue with neighboring countries, mentioning Panama. In February 2022, the Department against Transnational Organized Crime revealed its report " that "gold is smuggled from Colombia to various destinations in the region, such as Ecuador, Panama and the Caribbean”.