Billions in African gold smuggled to UAE each year — report

Illicit gold trade amounts to $23.7 billion-$35 billion annually based on current market prices. (AI generated image by Pisan | AdobeStock.)

As much as $35 billion worth of gold produced by artisanal and small-scale mining in Africa, the world’s top bullion producing continent, goes undeclared and then smuggled out, a report published on Thursday claims.

According to Switzerland-based aid and advocacy organization SwissAid, a total of 435 tonnes of gold was illegally taken out of Africa in 2022, with the majority of it going to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The NGO says the UAE received 405 tonnes of the black marketed precious metal in 2022. Over the previous decade, the nation has accepted more than 2,500 tonnes of smuggled gold, valued at over $115 billion, the organization says.

From Dubai, gold smuggled out of Africa makes its way to European countries including Switzerland, SwissAid says. Once it enters the international market and is declared as imported in a country like the UAE, it then can be legally exported to other countries.

According to SwissAid, the destination countries have poor regulations when it comes to discerning the actual origins of the metal.

The UAE Ministry of Economy told SwissAid that the government cannot be responsible for the export records of other countries, only its own. Authorities stated that they have advanced technologies and systems in place to track and authenticate their own data. The ministry also emphasized that the UAE has implemented measures to prevent money laundering in the gold sector, according to the report.

Going on for decades

The group says that revenue from smuggled African gold continues to fuel conflict and finance criminal and terrorist networks. This undermines democracy and facilitates money laundering, it says. 

The illegally traded metal comes from 12 African countries, with the majority coming from Mali, Ghana and Zimbabwe. 

The research authors conducted a comprehensive analysis of the production and trade of gold in all 54 African countries over a span of more than ten years. Their goal, they say, was to expose what they view as unjust practices and lack of oversight by governments and stakeholders. They also hope to prompt improved regulation of the industry.

“Governments must no longer be able to hide behind the lack and poor quality of data and other information to justify their inaction; they must shoulder their responsibilities, in particular by stepping up controls and working to formalize the sector,” Marc Ummel, head of the raw materials unit at SwissAid and co-author of the study said in a statement.

Billions in African gold smuggled to UAE each year — report
Source: ”On the Trial of African Gold,” SwissAid report.

A similar report published in 2020 by a United Nations group of experts showed that more than 1.1 tonnes of gold mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo was smuggled the previous year into countries along the eastern border.

The UN also found that Uganda and other neighbouring countries have been exporting far more gold than what they officially produce. This, they said at the time, provided evidence they might be receiving smuggled Congolese gold.

The contraband of gold out of Africa spans at least nine countries and they have been going on for decades, but they have become all the more rewarding as the price of bullion has soared past $2,200 an ounce, setting a record high of $2,449.89 just last week.

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