Robbers take $8.5 million in gold from Canadian mine refinery in western Mexico

CULIACAN, Mexico – A robbery of $8.5 million in gold from a Canadian-owned mine refinery in Mexico’s western Sinaloa state was likely an inside job, authorities said Wednesday.

Sinaloa’s interior minister Gerard Vargas Landeros told reporters that the caper at the facility of Canada-based McEwen Mining Inc. had to have been pulled off by either employees or ex-employees.

“It was premeditated, well planned and organized,” Vargas said. “It had to have been done by someone who knows the inside movements … we believe we can solve this very quickly.”

A statement from McEwen said the theft occurred Tuesday at the El Gallo 1 mine and involved 900 kilograms (1,984 pounds) of gold-bearing concentrate containing approximately 7,000 ounces of gold.

The Canadian mining firm said the robbers were armed, but no one was injured. It gave no more details.

Authorities said Wednesday that the robbery was an isolated incident and would not affect operations or international investors.

“We’re generating a strategy to guarantee the safety of employers in the industry,” said retired Gen. Moises Melo Garcia, state director of security.

He said criminals in the area usually rob fuel from nearby pipelines of Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, the state-run oil company, but that this is the first time anyone has hit a mine.

State Prosecutor Marco Antonio Higuera Gomez said there are several important lines of investigation, but declined to give details or a motive.

McEwen said in a release Wednesday that it is working with its insurance carrier and that it expected to recover the majority of the losses.

It said 30 days of production in concentrates were in the refinery at the time of the robbery but that there was no damage to the plant and that mining and processing continue uninterrupted. It said it expected a strong second quarter in terms of gold production, despite the theft, and that it was maintaining its 2015 production guidance at the mine.

The Toronto-based company, which describes itself as a growing gold and sliver producer in the Americas, has operations in Mexico, Nevada and Argentina, and its shares trade on the NYSE and TSX. The company website says chairman and chief owner Rob McEwen owns 25 per cent of the outstanding shares.

The robbery was the second hit on a Mexican mine in recent months. In February, several employees of the Media Luna mining company in the southern state of Guerrero were kidnapped for ransom by a drug cartel, and later released.

After the kidnapping, community police demanding more security shut down operations of the mine, owned by the Canadian company Torex Gold Resources.

— With files from The Canadian Press