The Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) has initiated full-scale investigations into the seizure of 12 boxes of gold valued at US$18 million at the Kotoka International Airport (KIA).
The gold, which weighed 480 kilogrammes, was impounded last Wednesday by security officials at the KIA in what they described as a syndicated attempt to smuggle the commodity out of the country without the necessary authorisation.
A source close to the KIA told the Daily Graphic that the gold deal was uncovered upon a tip off.
It said the timely intervention of the security officials led to the retrieval of the 12 boxes of gold which were ready to be exported by Emirates Airlines without any form of documentation and inspection.
The team, it said, found that six other boxes which were in the same container had documents covering them.
Confirming the seizure of the gold, the KIA Customs Sector Commander, Assistant Commissioner Mr Desmond Abbey, told the Daily Graphic that although an interim report had been forwarded to the headquarters of the Customs Division of the GRA, “the case is still under investigation and the full report will be ready soon”.
Mr Abbey, who did not want to give further details, said he did not want to prejudice the investigation.
“We want to get to the bottom of the matter, and so far, we are making progress,” he said.
Documents which should have accompanied the consignment included Bank of Ghana (BoG) declaration forms, export declaration, automatisation from the Precious Minerals Marketing Company (PMMC) Limited, proof of registration as a gold exporter and Customs declaration forms.
Last year, the BoG issued a directive to streamline gold export procedures.
Per the directive, all gold exporters must obtain clearance from the PMMC that has been mandated to regulate the gold export industry in Ghana.
The move, which meant private licensed gold exporters would not have their licences renewed on expiration, was triggered by reports of the misuse of licences by some private gold dealers, including smuggling of gold outside the country.
But some gold exporters under the Licensed Gold Exporters (LGEs), who were not happy with the directive, challenged the appointment of the PMMC as the certifier for gold exports and subsequently secured an injunction against the directive.
The PMMC is a limited liability company operating under the Companies Code, with the government of Ghana as the sole shareholder.
Per the new rules, LGEs were not also permitted to export gold for third parties, which is a preserve of the PMMC.
Sources in the gold export industry explained that the practice of private gold exporters exporting gold without any form of documentation was a daily occurrence at the KIA.
It said foreign gold traders bought directly from some illegal gold miners and small-scale miners in mining communities and exported it without going through the PMMC, ripping off the country of several millions of dollars annually.
Some Ghanaians with licences from the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources and a recommendation from the Minerals Commission are also said to have taken over the PMMC’s mandate of third-party shipment for others, where they charge very low rates.
The practice, the source said, had made it possible for exporters to avoid paying the appropriate taxes to government and also skip repatriation of proceeds into the country.
Although the law calls for 80 per cent repatriation of money realised from gold exports, the foreign gold exporters are said to have been keeping the foreign currency in their offshore accounts.
They are said to rather buy consumables in their countries of origin which they ship into Ghana and then use the cedis realised from the sale of the goods to buy more gold for export.
Available information from the Indian government (Zauba Technologies & Data Services) showed that between January 2014 and January 2016, a total of 101,179kg of gold, valued at US$3,607,415,756.36, was shipped out of Ghana to India without going through the necessary processes.
The practice led to a loss of more than $3 billion to the Ghana government.
Later in an interview, the Managing Director of the PMMC, Mr George Abradu-Otoo, expressed joy that the illegal operations of the gold smugglers had been uncovered.
He said the state was losing so much as a result of the activities of the smugglers.
He expressed the hope that the full investigations would lead to the prosecution of the perpetrators behind the practice.