Govt touts tripling fines, other measures to strengthen laws against smuggling 

Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo

The government is looking to strengthen its laws to institute stiffer financial penalties against gold smugglers, Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo announced on Thursday.

This announcement follows the arrest of three alleged gold smugglers at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) as well as the US-instituted sanctions against businessmen and gold dealers Nazar and Azruddin Mohamed.

During a press conference, Jagdeo said that under the current Gold Board Act, the penalty for gold smuggling is “small” and it does not deter perpetrators.

“We need to strengthen the charges and the penalties for illegal export of gold or smuggling of gold abroad by these large smugglers. Secondly, we need to strengthen financial penalties so in customs, if you evade taxes and you smuggle goods and you have undeclared goods, you have to pay [a] fine of triple the duty value,” the Vice President expressed.

Earlier this month, two US citizens and one Guyanese were intercepted with US$560,000 worth of raw gold at the CJIA at Timehri. They were subsequently charged for 𝑬𝒙𝒑𝒐𝒓𝒕𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝑮𝒐𝒍𝒅 𝒘𝒊𝒕𝒉𝒐𝒖𝒕 𝒂 𝑳𝒊𝒄𝒆𝒏𝒔𝒆 – in contravention of Section 8 of the Guyana Gold Board Act, Chapter 66:01, contrary to section 23 (a) of the said Act. They were granted bail totaling $600,000.

According to the Vice President, the trio will also face charges under Guyana’s Anti-Money Laundering law.

Further in the recent sanctions against the Mohameds family and their associated businesses recently, the United States alleged that some 10,000 kilogrammes of gold were smuggled out of this country between 2019-2023.

Jagdeo explained that currently, the smugglers are only asked to pay the estimated taxes they evaded by smuggling the mineral resource, but this is a small amount compared to the value of the gold smuggled.

“In this case, it’s estimated that the US$50M we lost is 7% of the total value of the gold because that is the royalty and tax rates amount to 7% of the value of the goods. If you had to pay triple the value on that, you’ll probably have to pay a penalty of 24% of the value of the gold, something of that nature,” he explained.

Along with increasing the penalty, the VP said efforts will be made to forfeit assets accrued with earnings from illegal activities.

“So if you get caught, there is a big risk, you get charged under an Act that has a severe penalty, secondly there is a big financial risk because you have massive fines and thirdly, we may have to start exploring what we did under the laws dealing with money laundering or drug trafficking – forfeiture of assets arising from illegal proceeds.”

Jagdeo said such stringent changes are necessary since the government, in the past, tried incentivising persons to encourage compliance with the law. These incentives included lowering taxes, but he noted that people are still not deterred.

On Thursday, he disclosed that there are currently six dealers licenced to export gold through a process monitored by the Guyana Revenue Authority and the Guyana Gold Board.