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104kg of gold 'linked to drugs cartel' seized at Heathrow airport

Lucia Binding, news reporter

An estimated £4m worth of gold, suspected to be linked to a South American drugs cartel, has been seized at Heathrow.

The gold, weighing about 104kg, was travelling to Switzerland from the Cayman Islands when it was seized by National Crime Agency officers.

The gold bars had initially been shipped to the Cayman Islands from Venezuela using a private jet.

The "substantial" shipment was seized last month, and magistrates have now allowed the NCA to hold it permanently under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

The gold is being treated as money laundering in an investigation by the Cayman Islands, with the assistance of the NCA.

Authorities are now working to identify the original source of the gold.

Much of the gold seized was in blocks and small pieces, while about six pieces were heart shaped.

NCA Heathrow branch commander Steve McIntyre said: "We believe that this shipment was linked to drugs cartels operating out of South America.

"Working with partners overseas and in the UK we were quickly able to identify it and stop its onward movement.

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"The business model of many organised crime groups relies upon the ability to move money across borders, to fund further investment in criminal activity.

"If we can stop that it not only causes disruption to the criminal network involved and prevents them benefiting from crime, it also stops that reinvestment."

Nick Jariwalla, Border Force Heathrow director, said: "Taking large amounts of money or gold out of the control of criminal networks hits them where they feel it most, in the pocket.

"This was a substantial seizure and demonstrates how effectively Border Force works with law enforcement partners, both at home and abroad, to combat organised crime."