"The one who buys [my gold] must know where to take it"
Gregoria Casas ‘Goya’, illegal gold miner from Madre de Dios, Perú
A team of OjoPúblico toured camps of illegal mining production in Huepetuhe and La Pampa, the largest area of deforestation in Peru; it also sailed the Madre de Dios, Beni and Madeira rivers in search of Bolivian and Brazilian dredges; the team reached the mines in the mountains of the Cordillera del Condor, near the border between Peru and Ecuador, and traveled to the depths of Caqueta and Amazonas regions dominated by the FARC and drug trafficking in the jungle of Colombia. This excursion to the centers of the gold rush in five countries allowed us to identify companies from US, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates that financed the removal of tons of illegally obtained gold in South America.
The richest forest in southern Peru is crossed by a desert-like scar that gives the idea of a planet about to split: on one side is the Tambopata National Reserve in Madre de Dios, one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world; on the other, the last forest that should cushion any external threat. In the middle area there are no trees, only fallen trunks; nor rivers but rocks, dirt and fetid lagoons. It is called La Pampa, and is the largest illegal mining camp in Peru. The epicenter of one of the most devastating gold fevers in the Amazon history is just an hour distant from the border with Bolivia and Brazil, but thousands of kilometers away from the corporations that have benefited the most from the devastation.
Through a travel to mining centers in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia, accessing to judicial and police documents on illegal trafficking of metal and analyzing the exportation of gold from South America, OjoPúblico identified the major financiers of the gold fever that has devastated large parts of South America in recent years—a group of companies from the US, Switzerland, Italy and the United Arab Emirates, associated or linked to the London Bullion Market Association (Lbma), the union that sets the international price of gold and that gathers the major traders of this asset in the world.
These companies -Metalor Technologies and MKS Finance, from Switzerland; Northern Texas Refinery (NTR Metals) and Republic Metals Corporation (RMC), from the US; Italpreziosi from Italy and Kaloti group from the emirate of Dubai-, are also suspected of buying hundreds of tons of illegal gold from south American exporting firms managed by illegal mining operators linked to money laundering, organized crime and cross-border smuggling of metal.
The judicial authorities of Peru have targeted these companies (which also acquire gold in Medellin, La Paz and Guayaquil) because of the 25 criminal cases opened after the confiscation of one ton of metal in Callao between 2013 and 2014, and because of other processes of money laundering from illegal mining. The investigation includes the real capital of these corporations, their millionaire transfers of money to buy gold from mining areas of southern Peru in recent years, as well as the contacts that the executives of these companies made with the owners of exporting companies in Lima and other Amazon countries to ship loads of illicit origin to their subsidiaries in Miami, Zurich and Rome.