Billions in Gold Smuggled Out of Africa Annually, Finds Swiss Report

Gold worth billions of dollars is smuggled out of Africa each year, with most ending up in the United Arab Emirates, where it is refined and sold to buyers worldwide, according to a report released today by Swissaid

by Sededin Dedovic
Billions in Gold Smuggled Out of Africa Annually, Finds Swiss Report
© Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Gold worth more than 30 billion dollars, or over 435 metric tons, was smuggled out of Africa in 2022 alone, according to a report published by Swissaid, a Swiss-based aid and development group. The main destinations for African gold were the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Switzerland.

The report's authors stated their goal is to make the trade in African gold more transparent and to pressure industry stakeholders to do more to ensure that gold supplies can be tracked and supply chains made more accountable.

"We hope this will improve the living conditions of local populations and the working conditions of artisanal miners across Africa," said Ivan Schulz, one of the report's authors, to the Associated Press. The report revealed that between 32% and 41% of gold produced in Africa is undeclared.

In 2022, Ghana was the largest gold producer in Africa, followed by Mali and South Africa, according to the statement. The UAE is by far the largest destination for smuggled gold, with about 405 metric tons of undeclared production from Africa ending up there.

Over the decade from 2012 to 2022, this amounted to 2,569 metric tons of gold worth around 115 billion dollars. The report states that the gap between UAE imports and exports from African countries has increased over the years, indicating that the amount of gold smuggled from Africa has risen over the past decade.

For example, from 234 metric tons in 2020 to 405 tons in 2022. Switzerland, one of the main buyers of African gold, imported 21 metric tons of undeclared gold from Africa in 2022, according to the report. The real figure could be much higher if African gold imported through third countries were considered, the report notes, but once gold is refined, it is practically impossible to trace its path to the final destination.

The United Nations Commodity Trade Database, which contains detailed import and export statistics, shows that Switzerland is the main buyer of gold from the UAE. "Procuring gold from the UAE is notoriously risky," the report states, describing the difficulties in determining the origin of refined gold.

Exposing The Inhumane Conditions Of Burkina Fasos Gold Mines© Journeyman Pictures / YOutube channel

An official from the UAE Government Media Office said that the country has taken significant steps against gold smuggling and the risks it poses.

The continued growth of the UAE gold market reflects the international community's confidence in its processes, the official said. The Swiss government is aware of the challenges in identifying the origin of gold and has introduced measures to prevent illegal flows, said Fabian Maienfisch, spokesperson for the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs.

The report compared export data from African countries with import data from non-African countries, along with other calculations. Among the recommendations is a call for African states to formalize artisanal and small-scale mining and strengthen border control.

Additionally, non-African states are urged to publish the identities of the countries of origin and shipment of imported gold and to work with authorities to identify illegal gold flows.

### Blood Diamonds

In parts of Africa rich in diamonds, revenues from these treasures, as well as gold, provide little help to local populations.

Often, they make life even harder and poorer. Greed and the inability of corrupt state apparatuses to stop diamond smuggling lead to instability, says Mze Fula Ngenge, president of the African Diamond Council. Ngenge says that raw materials from Congo, Angola, Mozambique, and other countries end up outside the continent.

"Sometimes, many illegal diamonds are seized, and then they become the property of the state that confiscated them," he told DW. "So the developed world, as the Pope recently called it, is certainly guilty of turning a blind eye to all this," he added.

A source familiar with the geopolitics behind diamonds, which involves money laundering and terrorism financing, explains one of the mechanisms: "Sometimes diamonds are stolen from mines in Angola and transported to Congo.

They are then exported to Dubai with documents claiming the diamonds are from Congo," he said.

### Worthless Certificates

Rafael Marques de Morais, a journalist and activist from Angola who wrote the book "Blood Diamonds," harshly criticizes both his country's authorities and the international community.

He says that introducing certificates of origin for diamonds does not prevent local communities from suffering while the treasure is exported to Antwerp or Dubai. "It is enough to say that the diamonds are clean, and that justifies everything.

But they are not clean because they are still exploited using violence," Marques told DW. Recently, the journalist recalls, a security guard at a mine in northern Angola was beaten to death. The perpetrators were allegedly unofficial miners from Congo.

"There are conflicts; local communities are exploited and abused while, for example, Russia's Alrosa extracts diamonds," the journalist said, referring to the Russian company that is one of the largest diamond producers in the world. There is a connection with the Belgian port of Antwerp, he added.