Peru uncovers organized crime network laundering illegally mined gold
24 Mar 2020

A major operation across five regions of Peru has seen 47 prosecutors and 1,200 police officers arrest 18 people who, according to Peruvian authorities, were members of a criminal organization known as Los Topos (Spanish for “The Moles”), who focused on the illegal mining and trading of gold.

Simultaneous raids were carried out in nine tunnels located in Parcoy district, Pataz, in the northern region of La Libertad, leading to the regions of Piura, Lima, Ica and Arequipa. The operation successfully revealed the process used by criminal organizations to launder gold mined from prohibited sites.

The authorities also unmasked the front used by this criminal group to shield its operations via the Ministry of Energy and Mines’ Integral Registry of Mining Formalization (REINFO). Members of Los Topos used the registration details of four people who were in the process of being formalized as artisanal miners in order to transport the goods and authenticate the gold.

The group used this front to launder high-purity gold illegally mined from huge tunnels dug into the hills of the Retama and Fernandini areas in Parcoy, which were hidden inside buildings built on the mountain slopes.

Who are ‘The Moles’?

Among the arrested are those responsible for the strip mining and stockpiling of the ore, owners of properties that concealed entrances to the mines, front men, transporters of the ore, those that filed documents relating to the laundering, those in charge of storing the dirty gold, and those who bought the product for export.

Two foreign nationals, both Chinese but one a naturalized Australian, are listed as part of this network. They, through their companies, were in charge of buying and exporting the mineral authenticated by the Port of Callao.

The operation led to the seizure of large amounts of gold valued at approximately $10 million, as well as documents, weapons, explosives and chemical agents.

“This is the first time that illegal mining has been exposed in such a way, with identity documents and so much gold being seized,” said Raúl Del Castillo, the Peruvian police general in charge of environmental law enforcement. “We believe this constitutes the beginning of a new era in the fight against illegal mining. Behind this illicit activity there are criminal organizations and, to date, the problem has not been addressed in this way.”

The operation has exposed a whole chain of illegal activity that originated in Parcoy, infiltrated the Port of Callao, and finally ended up in Asian and European markets.

The REINFO papers

For the six months between February and July 2019, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the police kept an eye on the properties located on the main Parcoy road, following the trucks that had been loaded under the cover of darkness with tons of ore.

By Yvette Sierra Praeli, Mongabay, 23 March 2020

Read more at Mongabay

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