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Billions in Gold Smuggled Annually from Africa to UAE Exposed

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A Swiss NGO disclosed that billions of dollars’ worth of gold are illegally transported from Africa each year, with the majority of this gold making its way to Dubai, where it is then lawfully re-exported to other nations.

The development organization “SwissAid” released a report indicating that between 321 and 474 tons of gold ore from Africa, mined through small-scale or artisanal methods, go undeclared, amounting to a value of 24 to 35 billion dollars.

The continent of Africa is the main producer of gold in the world, with Ghana, South Africa, Mali, and Burkina Faso topping production in 2022.

According to the organization, the smuggling of African gold is on the rise and has “doubled between 2012 and 2022.”

The report stressed that gold serves as an income source for millions of artisanal miners, the primary revenue stream for numerous governments, a funding mechanism for armed groups, and a contributor to significant human rights abuses as well as environmental damage.

The organization referred to Dubai as an “international center for African gold trade,” which then made its way to other countries, including Switzerland.

It estimates that in 2022, “66.5 percent (405 tons) of the gold imported into the UAE from Africa was smuggled from African countries.”

The gold is transported to Dubai by plane, often carried in hand luggage or suitcases on both commercial and private flights.

The emirate serves as a hub for gold refineries and is home to thousands of precious metal and gemstone traders.

From Dubai, African gold is primarily exported to Switzerland, its second largest importer, as well as to India.

Under Swiss law, gold originates from the place where it was last processed, so gold arriving in Switzerland cannot be traced back to Africa.

The report, spanning the years 2012 to 2022, draws on data from 54 African nations and compares gold production figures with official import and export records.

In 2019, a Reuters investigation concluded that billions of dollars in gold are smuggled from Africa every year through the UAE, which serves as a gateway to markets in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere.

Besides the loss of tax revenue, governments and experts caution that such extensive smuggling suggests the presence of a large-scale illegal parallel economy, which can be used for money laundering, financing terrorism, and evading sanctions.

Mark Omel, who heads commodities at SwissAid and co-authored the report, pointed out that the UAE facilitates gold laundering by providing a legal front for large volumes of smuggled gold passing through its borders.

He further commented, “The consistent influx of over 400 tons of illicit gold into the Emirates annually signals a significant oversight in regulatory enforcement within the country.”