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Curacao police arrest 3 suspects following dramatic $11.5 M gold bar heist

Gold Heist Boat Curacao.jpg

Nov. 30, 2012: The Summer Bliss fishing boat sits docked at the Willemstad port in Curacao.AP

Police in the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao have arrested seven suspects in connection with the recent heist of 70 gold bars worth an estimated $11.5 million.

Police spokesman Reginald Huggins said Friday that one of the men is from Bonaire, three are from Venezuela and the remainder from Curacao. One of the suspects was later released while the others are still being interrogated, Huggins said.

One of the men arrested is the owner of a local jewelry store, while at least two other suspects were arrested at the jeweler's house.

The arrests occurred Thursday and come nearly a month after masked gunmen pretending to be police stole 476 pounds of gold bars from a fishing boat in Curacao.

Authorities have not said where the gold was being delivered, but one of the ship's crew members said they were delivering the gold to an unidentified company in Curacao.

The gunmen assaulted the boat's captain before stealing the gold bars.

Huggins said that security guards allowed the suspects to enter a restricted area thinking they were customs officials.

Meanwhile, officials in Guyana said they are investigating whether the gold was mined in the South American country, which is near Curacao.

Environment Minister Robert Persaud told the AP that they have requested details about the gold bars, adding that such shipments are usually flown directly to the buyer and involve heavy security. The ship's crew members have said they weren't armed.

Both Persaud and Anan Balram, director of Guyana's Gold Board, said that if the gold was mined in Guyana, it would be a clear case of smuggling.

"We don't want to jump the gun and say that the gold is from Guyana," Persaud said. "That is what we first have to establish, as well as if the ship many any other stops anywhere else."

Officials said there is no record of the ship, named "Summer Bliss," leaving Guyana's Port Georgetown Harbor, adding that it could have left from a pier at any of the country's numerous rivers.

Guyana produces roughly 650,000 ounces of gold a year, and officials say that up to half that amount is smuggled out of the country to avoid paying taxes. Most of the gold is sold in neighboring Brazil, Venezuela and Suriname.