African Gold Smuggling to UAE Reaches Billions Annually

May 30, 2024
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Gold smuggling from Africa to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has seen a dramatic increase over the past decade. Each year, hundreds of tonnes of gold, worth tens of billions of dollars, are illegally transported out of Africa, according to a report released on Thursday. SwissAid, an organization dedicated to development aid and advocacy, conducted an analysis revealing that in 2022 alone, 435 tonnes of gold, predominantly mined by small-scale miners, were smuggled out of Africa. This gold has a market value exceeding $30 billion.

The report highlighted the UAE as the primary destination for Africa’s smuggled gold, receiving 405 tonnes in 2022. Over the last ten years, the UAE has imported more than 2,500 tonnes of smuggled gold, valued at over $115 billion, according to SwissAid.

When questioned about these findings, a UAE official stated that the country has enacted significant measures to address gold smuggling concerns and has introduced new regulations for gold and other precious metals.

The enormous volume of smuggled gold underscores the expansion of small-scale, or artisanal, mining. This industry now involves millions of people, producing gold volumes comparable to, or even surpassing, those of industrial mining operations.

In a 2019 investigation, Reuters discovered that billions of dollars’ worth of gold were being smuggled out of Africa each year through the UAE, which acted as a gateway to markets in Europe, the United States, and other regions.

Beyond the loss of tax revenues, experts and government officials warn that such extensive smuggling indicates a large parallel illicit economy. This economy is susceptible to money laundering, terrorist financing, and sanctions evasion.

Marc Ummel, the commodities lead at SwissAid and co-author of the report, noted that the UAE plays a role in gold laundering. He explained that large quantities of smuggled gold become legally recognized by passing through the UAE.