Venezuelans accused of smuggling $5 mn in gold into US

Miami (AFP) - Two Venezuelans have been charged in US federal court with allegedly smuggling $5 million worth of gold bars into the United States in a private airplane.

Jean Carlos Sanchez Rojas and Victor Fossi Grieco, who piloted the airplane, were arrested on September 20 at Florida's Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport after US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents discovered the undeclared cargo in the airplane's nose.

"CBP officers observed loose rivets on the nose compartment of the airplane," read the criminal complaint against the Venezuelans, filed Monday in US district court.

Inside the compartment, the CBP officers discovered "numerous bars of gold under a solid metal covering."

The gold weighed approximately 230 pounds and has "an estimated value of around $5 million," the document read.

Sanchez Rojas, 42, said that he "had obtained the gold from multiple sources in Venezuela" with the intention of selling it in the United States.

Upon landing in Fort Lauderdale -- located 31 miles (50 kilometers) north of Miami -- Sanchez Rojas and his wife filled out a customs declaration form stating that they were carrying $24,000, "but did not declare any other items."

He also said that "he knew the organization had smuggled gold previously into the US and that he would receive a fee for his involvement with the gold smuggling."

Fossi Grieco, the 51 year-old pilot, said that he had met people in Venezuela to pick up the gold and that he stored it in the plane's nose for two days before the flight. He added that he was going to receive a commission once he delivered the gold.

"Fossi Grieco said he knew that he had to report the gold in his customs declaration, but did not do so," the complaint reads.

In a separate case, on August 1 an "important amount" of gold bars were seized from a private airplane coming from Venezuela at the Princess Juliana Airport on the Dutch Caribbean possession of Sint Maarten, in the Dutch Antilles, local police said.