He Learned it All on Google and YouTube: How to Become a Gold Smuggler

Photo by Phillip Taylor. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Before getting nabbed by the Policía de Investigaciones — the Chilean equivalent of the FBI — 23-year-old Harold Vilches acquired and resold over 4,000 lbs. of gold worth $80 million in under two years. It all started with a Google search for gold dealers in Peru and YouTube videos on how to make your own gold ingots. Read the story at Bloomberg Businessweek by Michael Smith and Jonathan Franklin.

As the minutes ticked by on the afternoon of April 28, 2015, Harold Vilches watched stoically while customs officers at Santiago’s international airport scrutinized his carry-on. Inside the roller bag was 44 pounds of solid gold, worth almost $800,000, and all the baby-faced, 21-year-old college student wanted was clearance to get on a red-eye to Miami.

Vilches didn’t need this headache. In just two years he had rapidly risen in the ranks of Latin American gold smugglers. Although he was barely old enough to order a beer in Miami, he’d won a $101 million contract to supply a gold dealer in Dubai. That hadn’t exactly worked out—the Dubai company was after him for $5.2 million it says he misappropriated—but still, in a brief career he’d acquired and then resold more than 4,000 lb. of gold, according to Chilean prosecutors. U.S. investigators and Chilean prosecutors suspect almost all of it was contraband.

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