Nearly three years ago, around £4m worth of gold was discovered in the cargo section of a plane at London’s Heathrow Airport. 104kg of gold bars, some in the shape of hearts, was seized by the National Crime Agency (NCA) in June 2019 on a plane that had arrived from the Cayman Islands and was headed to Switzerland. The gold had been taken to the Caymans on a private jet which arrived from Venezuela. The NCA established that a trail of false paperwork had been created by South American drug cartels to hide that the gold was from Venezuela.
The NCA was able to obtain a civil recovery order for more than 80% of the gold following discussions with the High Court. This order requires proof that assets or property have been acquired through unlawful conduct. The remaining 20% of the gold will be returned to companies with a financial interest. The NCA branch commander, Andy Noyes, said that gold is an attractive way for criminals to move drug money due to the high value contained in relatively small amounts. This operation disrupting the criminal network from further criminality that causes harm to communities.
This operation highlights how private jets, the Cayman Islands and other tax havens are utilised in the movement of funds for illegal purposes. Such operations will continue given the preferential treatment that some of these havens receive from governing bodies across the world. In most cases, those in authority turn a blind eye to these financial movements as they are benefiting from the movement of these funds. However, there are many that will be caught and prosecuted and fined. Laws are in place, but the onus is on governments to enforce them.
Financial crime continues to be a major problem, and in many cases, sophisticated measures are used to disguise its activity. There are many instances where crime can be detected through the use of data analytics and well-trained professionals. When companies work together with regulatory bodies, law enforcement, and tax authorities, they can share information, use each other’s tools and expertise to identify and deter individuals from utilising the financial system for illegal purposes.