Authorities in Peru suspect half of all the country's gold exporters have connections to illegal gold mining, demonstrating just how entwined the legal and illegal Peruvian gold markets have become.
Investigations carried out by Peru's customs agency, financial crimes unit and money laundering investigators have listed 60 of Peru's 120 gold exporters as displaying signs of involvement in the illegal gold trade, according to the latest report by El Comercio.
Three of the listed companies are connected to the same parent company, Axbridge Corp, which is registered in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands.
The largest of those companies, Darsahn, was the fourth largest gold exporter in Peru in 2013. However, when El Comercio visited the company's listed offices, it found a family apartment over a restaurant.
Also on the list were four companies financed by Pedro Perez Miranda, alias "Peter Ferrari", who in the 1990s was accused of drug trafficking and money laundering. Perez first came to the authorities' attention for exporting bars of iron painted to look like gold, and was later accused of ties to Colombian drug traffickers. However, in 2002, he was absolved of these charges.
InSight Crime Analysis
The site of extraction of Peru's illegal gold is a no man's land of gold barons, forced labor, and reckless mining practices. However, the process of taking the gold mined in such regions to market involves more sophisticated operations carried out by legally registered businesses.
By the time gold arrives in the hands of exporters it has usually been provided with forged receipts of origin, allowing the companies to send it abroad, where it is melted down and mixed with the legal supply.
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Still, the fact that half of all exporters are falling under the suspicion of authorities indicates these companies are not innocent parties duped by forgeries, but likely active participants in the laundering of illegal gold.
What's more, some of these companies seem to be little more than front operations, while others are linked to figures with suspected drug ties, further underscoring the shadiness of the businesses that are supporting what by some estimates is a $3 billion a year illegal industry.