Authorities in Peru have dismantled a ring that sold explosives to gangs involved in illegal mining, showing how dangerous products needed to mine gold generate illicit profits.
In late August, authorities arrested nine suspects who allegedly formed part of a criminal network known as "Los TNT del Norte Chico," a news release from Peru's Attorney General's Office announced. The group sold illegal explosives to "mining mafias," according to a police tweet.
The arrests occurred during a series of raids on August 22 in departments along Peru's western coast, including Áncash, Lima, Ica and Arequipa. Six of the nine suspects were arrested in Barranca, a coastal city in the department of Lima.
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During the raids, authorities seized cash, dynamite, detonating cords and an explosive compound of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil commonly used in mining known as ANFO. In the city of Huarmey on Áncash's western coast, over 4,800 sticks of dynamite were confiscated.
An image shared by police indicated at least some of the explosives had been manufactured by a company based in Bolivia.
El Comercio reported that the group had been operating since 2017. The media outlet added that it was reportedly made up of members of two family clans that acquired explosives in Arequipa and Ica before allegedly transporting and selling them to illegal miners in Lima, Áncash and Ica.
In late June, during a separate operation, some 7,700 sticks of dynamite spread in 30 boxes were seized in a house in the province of Santiago de Chuco, in Peru's northern La Libertad department. The dynamite had been produced by a Bolivian company dedicated to manufacturing explosives used in mining, according to Andina.
InSight Crime Analysis
Peru's illegal mining crisis, long out of control, has grown to such a stage where criminal groups can turn a profit by focusing on a single element of the mining supply chain.
Explosives are used to blast rock and free up gold-bearing material. While Peru's legal mining sector has largely moved toward cheaper and safer ANFO, many small-scale miners continue to rely on dynamite to extract gold.
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Dynamite is often smuggled into Peru overland via its porous border with Bolivia. In most cases, the explosive is then used in illegal mining operations in the likes of Áncash. Dynamite sticks are also sent illegally to Ecuador.
Similar to dynamite, mercury, which is needed to separate gold from sediment, is commonly smuggled into Peru and sold on the black market. At large sites, criminal groups control the use of backhoes, dredges and bulldozers.
Illegal mining in Peru has continued to thrive during the pandemic across hot spots in Áncash, the department of Madre de Dios and other regions, as gold prices have soared.