Colombia is investigating the possible involvement of gold trading firms and a Miami refinery in a cocaine money-laundering scheme that’s distorting the country’s trade data, according to the tax and customs agency.
As much as $3.3 billion of gold was smuggled into Colombia in the past two years from countries including Venezuela, Panama, Mexico and Chile, said Juan Ricardo Ortega, who heads the agency known as the DIAN and is assisting an investigation started by the Attorney General’s office in 2011. The contraband metal allegedly was sent via trading firms including CI Goldex SA to the U.S. and Switzerland and bought at inflated prices with drug money, he said. Goldex denies any wrongdoing and said it doesn’t export gold to Switzerland and its commercial ties with the Miami plant have been temporarily halted.
“It’s money laundering, a way of bringing back dollars,” Ortega said in a May 19 interview at a Bogota restaurant where he was accompanied by bodyguards. The DIAN and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration are assisting in the probe, he said.
The alleged gold scheme would be part of money-laundering operations that the Colombian government’s financial intelligence unit estimates at about $11 billion a year. Cracking down on illicit transactions is part of efforts to end decades of drug-related violence and boost foreign investment.
The investigation is centered on Goldex, although other companies may be involved, the Attorney General’s office said in an e-mailed response to questions.
“The objective of the investigation is to determine if Goldex was used to undertake asset laundering transactions,” the Attorney General’s office said. “The Attorney General’s Office is reviewing the collected evidence with a view to making a decision on whether to impute or shelve,” it said.
Goldex is collaborating fully in the inquiry and last year voluntarily opened its offices to investigators to show that all its exports were legitimate and it has had no contact with any illegal groups, it said in a May 22 e-mailed response.
In a subsequent statement sent today after this article was first published, the Medellin-based company said it approached the Attorney General’s Office after finding out about a preliminary probe into supposed fictitious exports that has yet to become a formal investigation. Goldex isn’t under investigation for money laundering or any other crime, it said.