Colombia's Attorney General's Office announced the results of an investigation involving an illegal network that had allegedly laundered $1 billion through gold sales, in a case revealing how criminals use gold exports to disguise dirty cash.
In a press release, Colombia's assistant attorney general called it "the most important" blow yet against money laundering networks that rely on gold.
The two-year investigation centered on gold export company Goldex, and its owner John Uber Hernandez Santa. El Tiempo reported that the Attorney General's Office issued 26 arrest warrants for people linked to Goldex, including one for Hernandez. The company is accused of using fake gold sales to launder some 2.3 billion pesos (just over $1 billion), according to the Attorney General's Office, and was reportedly spread across at least five departments in Colombia. Investigators found that many of the 6,000 alleged providers of gold to Goldex didn't exist, or were registered in the names of people now deceased, according to El Tiempo.
Hernandez has admitted to buying gold from companies linked to the founder of Colombia's largest criminal group, the Urabeños.
In another strange twist to the case, one man under investigation recently killed himself in the Medellin Palace of Justice by throwing himself off the building. He jumped from the same floor where the courtroom hearing the case was located, according to Caracol Radio.
Following a previous article published by InSight Crime about the Goldex case, Hernandez -- via a public relations company hired by Goldex at the time -- sent InSight Crime two letters (one in English and Spanish), arguing that the company was not guilty of any wrongdoing. InSight Crime attempted to contact Hernandez via the public relations company, but the company stopped working for Goldex on September 30, 2014, after Goldex ceased operations.
InSight Crime Analysis
The investigation into Goldex comes as another indication that Colombia continues to confront the intersection between gold, illegal mining, and organized crime. The country recently announced a new series of legal reforms meant to tackle the problem of illegal gold mining, but as InSight Crime previously reported, these measures may be too little too late.
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Criminal networks have long used the gold industry as a way to launder dirty cash and to fund operations in Colombia. The security forces have previously said that criminal groups are thought to be involved in illegal mining in nearly half of Colombia's municipalities.
Colombia is not the only country where there are prominent links between gold, illegal mining, and money laundering. There have been reports of Mexican gangs stealing gold, intending to use it as a way to launder cash, while in Peru, money laundering via illegal mining reportedly increased 50 percent between 2012 and 2014.