* Company says gold shipment held up by customs for several days
* Dominican officials cite documentation problems
* President has said country wants more benefits from gold project
By Manuel Jimenez
SANTO DOMINGO, March 18 (Reuters) - Barrick Gold Corp, the world’s largest gold miner, said a shipment of gold which had been detained for four days by customs authorities in the Dominican Republic has been released and shipped.
Toronto-based Barrick confirmed on Monday that the shipment of gold from its Pueblo Viejo mine was delayed by Dominican customs officials after an error in the customs declaration system resulted in the shipment being mislabeled as coming from the United States.
“The declared origin (by Barrick) of the material was the United States, and it was physically proven that the material was extracted from Dominican soil, of Dominican origin,” Gregorio Lora, the Deputy Director General of Customs, told a press conference on Monday at Las Americas International Airport on the outskirts of the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo.
Under Dominican regulations, a faulty customs declaration is punishable by twice the value of the cargo, or $23 million in this case, Lora said. Customs official were now examining records of 19 other shipments made by Barrick, he added.
Pueblo Viejo, one of world’s largest new gold projects, is jointly owned by Barrick and Goldcorp Inc, Canada’s second largest gold miner.
Barrick has not said how much material was being held or where it was being shipped to.
The delay came just weeks after Dominican President Danilo Medina demanded that the company renegotiate its operating contract for the rich gold mine and threatened to clamp a windfall tax on profits if the contract was not modified.
The project is expected to produce more than 1 million ounces a year over its first five years of full production.
Gold prices have climbed sharply in recent years, leading to a rise in public pressure on governments worldwide to demand more benefits from mining companies, regardless of contracts already in place.
Barrick said it continues to talk with the Dominican government and has long maintained a good working partnership with the country.
Pueblo Viejo recently achieved commercial production, with ramp-up to full production capacity expected in the second half of 2013. The mine cost some $3.7 billion to build.