Two licensed diamond and gold mineral companies have been fined by the Liberian government for attempting to smuggle a large quantity of diamonds from the country.
Golden Bar Trading and Golden Mass Trading were booked at the Roberts International Airport (RIA) last week while attempting to smuggle 751 ounces of gold aboard an Arik Air Flight en-route to Accra, Ghana.
They have each been fined L$200,000 (US$2,353) by the government for failing to abide by customs regulation. On Monday, the companies agreed to pay the additional assessed amounts of US$4,000 into government revenue before proceeding to the Government of Liberia’s (GOL) Diamond Office at the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy to have their product re-certified for shipment in compliance with the Kimberly Process.
Diamond smuggling is common in Africa, but the Liberian government has vowed to fight against the illicit trade which a major contributing factor for the underdevelopment of a number of diamond producing countries on the continent.
The smugglers were arrested onboard the aircraft following tipoff from Liberia’s Minister of Finance Amara Konneh, who was en-route to Nigeria. According to eye witnesses, Mr. Konneh accidentally bumped into the hand luggage in the overhead cabin at the economy class of the aircraft where he chose to sit.
While trying to locate space in the overhead compartment of the plane for his luggage, the eye witnesses explained, Mr. Konneh incidentally stumbled upon two very heavy bags. “Realizing the excessive weight of the bags, Minister Konneh immediately inquired for the owner of the luggage containing such excess weight that had taken up space meant for carryon luggage.”
The owners of the luggage, names withheld, declared his ownership of the luggage and declared intimated to the Minister that the luggage was heavy because it contained gold.
The Finance Minister begun more inquisitive by asking the owner whether all the necessary paper works were done consistent with the Kimberly process of certification, and that government’s tax requirements were met.
The custodian of the luggage immediately began to exhibit suspicious behavior, thereby constraining the Minister of Finance to invite the intervention of the airline crew and airport security. A temporary confiscation of the product was immediately effected and the dealer was also held temporarily.
Accordingly, a joint security team was left in charge of the investigation and subsequently found that Golden Bar Trading and Golden Mass Trading evaded airport customs procedures and under declared the value of the products by more than 135 ounce amounting to US$138,598, which would have resulted into US$4,000 losses in royalties for the government.
As a result of this development, authorities of the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy and the Bureau of Customs &Excise at the Ministry of Finance are expected to convene this week in an attempt to tighten gaps and loopholes in the system.
As at March 2014, royalty on gold and diamonds projected at US$1.9 million dollars in the 2013/2014 national budget underperformed by US$1.1 million, with only US$819,000 dollars raised to date.
The Ministry of Finance has meanwhile implored the public “to protect our natural resources and preserve the integrity of our Kimberly process.” The Ministry further warned dealers in gold and diamond products to pay government royalties and related fees, and stop evading customs procedures at the various ports of entry. There has no report of any criminal charges being brought against Golden Bar Trading and Golden Mass Trading apart from the fines since the arrest of their dealers.