By Michelle Graff
The Financial Times reported this week that Toronto-headquartered Scotiabank is looking to sell its gold banking arm, ScotiaMocatta, in the wake of the gold smuggling scandal surrounding one of its clients, Elemetal.
New York--Scotiabank has put its gold business up for sale in the wake of the gold smuggling scandal surrounding one of the refiners to which it lent money, Elemetal, The Financial Times reported this week.

Citing people familiar with the matter, the Times said that Scotia wants to sell ScotiaMocatta, one of the five banks active on the London market, to Chinese buyers via JP Morgan.

Scotiabank’s lending to Elemetal, the Dallas-based company caught up in a billion-dollar gold smuggling scandal through subsidiary NTR Metals, was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” for Scotiabank when it comes to the gold business, according to the Times report.

Scotiabank did not respond to request for comment on the report Thursday and neither did Trey Gum, the attorney for Elemetal.

The Elemetal/NTR Metals smuggling scandal first made headlines back in March when Bloomberg Businessweek published a story titled “How to Become an International Gold Smuggler,” recounting how a 23-year-old Chilean college dropout named Harold Vilches sold millions of dollars in gold from illegal mines to NTR Metals’ office in Miami.

Federal officials eventually charged three now-former NTR Metals employees in the case, Juan P. Granda (aka Flecha), Renato J. Rodriguez and Samer H. Barrage, who were based in Miami and in charge of finding and buying gold in Latin America and the Caribbean.

A criminal complaint filed against all three in March states that between 2012--when, according to an industry source, the falling gold price and subsequent slowdown in U.S. refining sent Elemetal in search of international business--and 2015, NTR imported more than $3.6 billion dollars in gold from Latin America. Much of it was illegally mined, meaning it originated from unauthorized sites that are environmentally harmful, dangerous for workers, rife with prostitution and child labor, and controlled by drug cartels.

And Granda, Rodriguez and Barrage allegedly were at the center of it.

According to the complaint against them, they wired huge amounts of money to Latin America to “promote further gold transactions and business they knew involved: organized crime, gold smuggling and entry of goods into the U.S. by false means and statements, illegal mining, and narcotics trafficking, all in the hopes of creating more profits for themselves and NTR.”

Last month, Barrage and Granda took a deal in which they pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering in a Florida federal court. They face up to 10 years in prison, as opposed to the 20 they originally faced.

Sentencing is set for Feb. 26, 2018, court records show.

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