Latin America / Environmental crimes

Operation APOLO against illegal gold mining in Colombia

24 November 2020
Operation APOLO against illegal gold mining in Colombia

The criminal structure extracted and trafficked gold from the native forests of Colombia to Ecuador, Peru and the United States.The investigation was led by the Colombian Police and Rural Security Directorate and coordinated through the Jaguar Network.

9 detainees were arrested, with 2 kg of gold and 347 million Colombian pesos in cash seized during Operation Apolo. This was a very important blow to the criminal structures dedicated to the illicit extraction and trafficking of gold in the Department of Nariño.The National Police of Colombia estimates that the organised group’s illicit income amounts to 37 billion Colombian pesos.

The investigation, which began a year and a half ago, was led by the Police and Rural Security Directorate through the National Anti-Illegal Mining and Antiterrorism Unit, within the framework of the Bi-National Annual Operational Plan with Ecuador, and was coordinated with the National Office of the Attorney General from the Specialised Directorate against Human Rights Violations, the National Mining Agency and the Ecuadorian National Unit for Investigation of Crimes Against the Environment with the aim of dismantling criminal structures dedicated to the illicit exploitation of mining deposits.

Successful operation within the framework of the Jaguar Network

The role of the Jaguar Network, created by the countries of Latin America and the European Union (EU) with the support of EUROPOL, within the framework of the European EL PAcCTO Programme and EMPACT (the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats) fighting environmental crime in the EU, was vital in coordinating the investigations and the exchange of strategic information between Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

Among those arrested were two law enforcement officials who were providing information on possible operations and police actions to the criminal group.

The organisation carried out illegal gold mining in the native forests of the Telembi Triangle (Roberto Payán, Magüí Payán and Barbacoas), taking the gold in small quantities to the city of Pasto, where it was hidden in coves and transported by land to Ecuador for its subsequent shipment to Peru and the United States.

Within the investigative and expert actions, serious and irreparable environmental damage was determined to have been done to approximately 80 hectares of deforested woodland every three months in the Telembi Triangle.This is in addition to the dumping of mercury in the Brazos and La Seca rivers from which farmers and indigenous communities such as the Ñambi Piedra Verde receive their water supply.

Key aspects of “Operación Apolo”

  • “Operación Apolo”, which was undertaken in six departments across Colombia, saw the National Police, through the Directorate of Police and Rural Security, detain nine people dedicated to the illegal exploitation of mining deposits in the Telembi Triangle and Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia, as well as the sale of gold in Ecuador.
  • The detainees were charged with criminal conspiracy, the illegal exploitation of mining deposits, money laundering, the illegal enrichment of individuals, damage to natural resources, environmental contamination and bribery, among other crimes.
  • Among those detained were the people responsible for the illicit exploitation of mining deposits in native forests in Triangulo de Telembi in the department of Nariño, identified under the aliases ‘El Duro’, who was detained in a luxury residential complex in Armenia and ‘Geovanny’, the head of finance of the organisation, who was detained in Florencia Caqueta in Colombia.
  • The organisation was said to have been forced to pay a percentage of the production to the GAO ELN and GAO-R Oliver Sinisterra.
  • They gave money to peasants in the sector to prevent them from reporting mining activity in the sector.