No illegal gold dealing, gold intercepted were samples sent for testing: Winwin mining
Winwin Mining Investment Ltd and a local gold dealer licence holder who have been implicated in SIBC’s recent article on Gold smuggling and Tax evasion, have adamantly denied any illegal gold dealing and gold smuggling as reported.
Last week, the former Director of the Ministry of Mines Nicholas Biliki exposed via SIBC News the export document and details of the purported gold smuggling and tax-evading gold deal perpetuated to have occurred during the period from August 2019 to January 2020.
It was reported that nearly 80 Kilograms of gold worth around AUD 5.2 million (SBD30 million) dollars has been exported out from the Solomon Islands by Asians through the local gold dealers license, Primo Keni and Jeremy Rex of Guadalcanal.
It was also reported that in 2019, 1.7 kilograms worth SBD700, 000 dollars of pure gold was attempted to be smuggled out from the country by a Win Win mining officer. It was reportedly intercepted and confiscated by Solomon Islands Customs at the Henderson International Airport.
But responding to this, Winwin Mining Investment’s Local Director Charlie Meke, Office Manager Jeremy Rex and the local gold dealer Primo Keni dismissed any activity that involved illegal gold dealing and smuggling as reported.
Gold Dealers Licence holder clarified
Mr Primo Keni was involved in the gold dealers’ licence for only four months. Under the Mines and Minerals Act, only locals or people that reside in the gold tenement area can apply for the licence. Both Jeremy and Primo are from Turarana so they applied through due process and obtained that licence.
“We do it according to what the former director Mr Biliki instructed us to obtain the licence, that is why we totally deny any illegal gold buying involved,” said Mr Keni.
Mr Rex admits that during the time, Mr Keni carried out the exports through an urgent within the company who was an Asian expatriate. They export gold through the right formalities and process through the Ministry of Mines and the Ministry of Finance Customs Excise Division.
“So, a total of eight consignments that Primo exported under his licence were taxed including that 2.5 percent Value-Added Tax (VAT), which totaled up to 7.5 percent tax payment.
“Compliance and the necessary process before gold was exported has been duly followed, from the alluvial gold taken in Central Guadalcanal to the Ministry of Mines and Customs Division.
“It was approved by Mines before going through Customs, so there were no ways to illegally export the alluvial gold,” Mr Rex said.
He reiterated that throughout, there were compliance checks that had been done by the line ministries before it was flown overseas.
No laboratory for testing here
Winwin’s local director said during this period there was no laboratory in the country for test analysis, not until the samples were intercepted and withheld by Customs. As such, they usually send samples overseas.
“It was due to the fact that there is no facility here for analysis of these minerals. So we always send through DHL, Sending rocks or minerals via DHL is very costly for the company, so sometimes we send them via company workers when they travel overseas,” Mr Meke said.
He said this has to go through due process and the company has to have a sample permit from the Mines Division before it goes through Customs Division for further weighing before proceeding to the airport.
“All these due processes have been done, so, the very reason why these samples were sent out was because there was no laboratory facility here for the test, but after Customs intercepted the samples, now Mines have a testing laboratory,” Mr Meke said.
After Customs withheld the samples, the company after due process with Customs, took one year to return the gold to Winwin Investment Company, and it was all documented according to the trio.
Payment of penalty has been done, accordingly approved by Customs management.
Process prior to release of sample
Mr Rex said Winwin held two consultation meetings with responsible Government authorities. A Customs investigation team went to the mine site and investigated how the process ended up with the sample consignment that was withheld.
“After the consultation meeting, we apply to get back the sample and go through the process again to resend the sample for testing overseas,” said Rex.
An approval was then granted for the release of the alleged 1.7 kilograms worth SBD700, 000 dollars. The company got back the sample with the penalty of $2000 with plans to re-process the sample again.
“The sample was released on December 2, 2020. However, when we were working on the same process to send the sample overseas for further analysis, it was unfortunately stolen during the Winwin Camp robbery of 9th December 2020, with some gold bars.
According to Former Mines director, Mr Biliki, the 1.7 kilograms of gold were pure gold worth SBD700, 000 dollars.
But Mr Meke claimed they were samples. He said there were several samples being sent before they were intercepted and withheld.
“We label it as a sample because we were not aware of it until they withheld it, because unless it was further tested, we will know the reading.
“But along the way, they have a scanning machine at the airport and find out that the anomaly was not normal so they confiscated it. It was then passed through the Mines laboratory when it was tested as gold,” he said.
On the part where it was allegedly spray-painted to look like ground samples, Mr Rex said that was also the reason that they want to be tested overseas.
He said their geologist would be in the right position to talk on that because he only deals with office matters.
Gold Testing & Analysis
Meke said during the course of that time, they were not allowed to do testing at the Mines Division, not until the incident occurred.
“We did not go to the Mines because the Mines laboratory was not available for us, the facility was not up to that standard as well. So, all our samples were sent overseas, when they returned the results, we then sent them to the Mines Ministry.
Mr Rex added that they were not informed of the testing facility at the Mines Division.
“Actually, all the process goes through the Ministry of Mines, but if Geologists from the Mines Division informed us that they have the facility for testing, that would be good so that we know that actual testing can be done here.
“Maybe they have the machine, but they reserve that for the purpose only they will know. They should inform us that they have the test machine,” Rex said.
He said they have been sending samples overseas around a year and a half according to Mr Meke, through normal processes.
Company has issues with former Director Mines
Mr Meke said from the company’s opinion, they have already resolved these issues.
“…and he (Nicholas Biliki) came out with this when he retired. Company has some outstanding issues with the former director, and we are ready to pursue cases against him on financial issues pertaining to money he owed from us.
“We got the receipts here on money he fraudulently got from the company, a total of $180,000 to purchase a speed boat.
“We will get our lawyer to pursue him to refund the money he got from the company because he unfairly treated us when he retired and come up with these issues in which the company believed has been resolved,” Mr Meke said.
However, the trio said Winwin Mining Investment Ltd will continue work together with the Ministry of Mines, the Ministry of Finance Customs Excise Division and former director of Mines Mr Biliki to resolve the outstanding issue.
by Jared Koli