Gold worth billions of dollars smuggled out of Africa annually- Report

...Smuggling is done through the United Arab Emirates

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Gold worth billions of dollars is being smuggled out of Africa annually, a Reuters report said.

This smuggling is done through the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East; a country which serves as a gateway to markets in Europe, the United States and beyond.

In 2016, UAE imported $15.1 billion worth of gold (weighed 446 tonnes) from Africa up from $1.3 billion (weighed 67 tonnes) in 2006. This is a record no African country has beaten.

The report stated that much of the gold was not recorded in the exports of African states and that economists interviewed said it indicates large amounts of gold are leaving Africa with no taxes being paid to the states that produce them.

Previous reports and studies have highlighted the black-market trade in gold mined by people, including children, who have no ties to big business, and dig or pan for it with little official oversight. No-one can put an exact figure on the total value that is leaving Africa. But the Reuters analysis gives an estimate of the scale.

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Informal methods of gold production, known in the industry as “artisanal” or small-scale mining, are growing globally.

And African governments such as Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia complain that gold is now being illegally produced and smuggled out of their countries on a vast scale, sometimes by criminal operations, and often at a high human and environmental cost.

Miners, some of them working legally, typically sell the gold to middlemen. The middlemen either fly the gold out directly or trade it across Africa’s porous borders, obscuring its origins before couriers carry it out of the continent, often in hand luggage.

Burkina Faso has banned small-scale mining in some areas where al Qaeda-linked Islamists are active, and earlier this month Nigeria’s government suspended mining in the restive northwestern state of Zamfara, saying intelligence reports established what it called “a strong and glaring nexus” between the activities of armed bandits and illicit miners.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a major gold producer but one whose official exports amount to a fraction of its estimated production: Most is smuggled into neighboring Uganda and Rwanda. “It is of course worrisome for us but we have very little leverage to stop it,” said Thierry Boliki, director of the CEEC, the Congolese government body that is meant to register, value and tax high-value minerals like gold.

The customs data provided by governments to Comtrade, a United Nations database, shows the UAE has been a prime destination for gold from many African states for some years. In 2015, China – the world’s biggest gold consumer – imported more gold from Africa than the UAE. But during 2016, the latest year for which data is available, the UAE imported almost double the value taken by China. With African gold imports worth $8.5 billion that year, China came a distant second. Switzerland, the world’s gold refining hub, came third with $7.5 billion worth.

Most of the gold is traded in Dubai, home to the UAE’s gold industry.

The UAE reported gold imports from 46 African countries for 2016. Of those countries, 25 did not provide Comtrade with data on their gold exports to the UAE. But the UAE said it had imported a total of $7.4 billion worth of gold from them.

In addition, the UAE imported much more gold from most of the other 21 countries than those countries said they had exported.

A senior adviser on industrial development at the African Union who set up the organization’s minerals unit, Frank Mugyenyi, said “there is a lot of gold leaving Africa without being captured in our records.

“UAE is cashing in on the unregulated environment in Africa.”

Over the last decade, gold from Africa has become increasingly important for Dubai. From 2006 to 2016, the share of African gold in UAE’s reported gold imports increased from 18 percent to nearly 50 percent, Comtrade data showed.

Today, gold trades at over $40,000 per kilo, which is below a peak from 2012 but still four times the level of two decades ago.

Reuters presented its analysis to 14 African governments. Five of these governments said it reflected an existing concern about gold being smuggled out of their countries that they are trying to address.

One said they did not think gold smuggling was a problem for them. The rest declined to comment or did not respond.

Governments across Africa are trying to work out how to manage a sector that, whatever its risks, provides a livelihood for many of their citizens, and which could be harnessed as a source of revenues.

According to the report, some, including Ivory Coast, are taking gradual steps to regulate their informal mining operations. Ghana and Zambia have sent security forces into mining areas to halt operations so miners can be registered and regulations put in place. Ghana, concerned that a rush of mainly Chinese-led ventures is harming the environment, has arrested hundreds of Chinese miners and expelled thousands in the past six years.

At the end of March 2019, Ghana temporarily banned the import of excavator equipment to try to stem a surge in illegal mining using heavy machinery.

In Sudan, one of the continent’s biggest producers, the government has unveiled a $3 billion plan for private banks to work with the central bank to buy gold from small-scale miners, offering prices that would make it less attractive to sell on the black market.

A Tanzanian parliamentary report estimated that 90 percent of annual production of informally mined gold is smuggled out of the country: The government wants the central bank to buy this up. In March, President John Magufuli launched a plan to establish hubs where the trade would be formalized by offering access to financing and regulated markets.

In Burkina Faso, Oumarou Idani, minister of mines, believes his country is leaking gold to UAE on a massive scale. Of the 9.5 tonnes of gold the government estimates informal miners dig up each year, just 200 to 400 kg are declared to the authorities, he said.

Much of the gold is smuggled from landlocked Burkina Faso to its Atlantic coast neighbor Togo, according to the minister. In Togo, virtually no taxes are imposed on gold.

Togo’s director of mining development and controls, Nestor Kossi Adjehoun, said informal mining is “an area that we have not properly figured out.” For now, he said, Togo saw no reason to suspect gold was being smuggled through the country.

“I understand that Dubai is the destination for this gold,” his Burkina Faso neighbor, Minister Idani, told Reuters in an interview last year. “But since (the trade) is fraudulent, I have no details.”

Yetunde Adegoke

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