Swiss authorities were met with harsh criticism on Tuesday after the country’s attorney general’s office dismissed a “conflict gold” case against a major refiner after citing insufficient evidence.
Argor-Heraeus faced charges of laundering and “complicity in war crimes and pillage” after it refined three tonnes of gold in 2004–2005 from an armed group called the National Integrationist Front or FNI. Argor-Heraus said it did not know that the gold was from the FNI.
The Uganda-backed group took control of a mineral-rich area in the northeastern Ituri region of the DRC in 2003. Activists who filed the criminal case against Argor-Heraus told AFP.com that “Argor should have known, or at least suspected, that the precious metal did not come from gold-poor Uganda”:
He [TRIAL director Philip Grant] pointed out that South Africa’s Rand Refinery, which initially refined the gold, had stopped working with Hussar [an intermediary] after becoming suspicious of the origin of the metal.
Argor’s decision to take over allowed FNI to more easily bring the pillaged gold to market to finance their brutal operations, Grant said, charging the company helped “fuel the conflict”.
The European Union last month approved stricter regulations dealing with metals and minerals from conflict zones, while the US already has disclosure rules regarding the origin of imports in place.
Emmenthaler image by Hellebardius