Switzerland is identical to the Alps, with gourmet chocolates and luxury watches.
The European nation has an additional identity for those in the jewellery industry: it is the globe’s largest exporter of gold. Switzerland sold approximately $87 billion worth of the precious metal in 2021. Moreover, virtually the same amount as the three largest exporters: the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the United States.
Switzerland imports nearly all this gold from other countries. Further, it refines and brands it and subsequently exports it to nations. From there, hundreds of thousands of people wear jewellery and accessories made from precious metal.
It is similar to the UAE and the United Kingdom. The top three gold exporters are not among the top gold-producing nations. Moreover, they mine very little, if any, of the metal. However, they are the most significant industrial hubs.
Gold Mafia, a four-part inquiry by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit (I-Unit), uncovers that this trade model is central to a mechanism used by smugglers and money launderers to get rid of dirty currency and sell gold from shady sources.
Undercover investigators infiltrated some of the largest gold-smuggling and money-laundering groups in Southern Africa. Further, the investigation demonstrates how difficult it is to determine the gold source that regular London, New York, New Delhi, and Karachi consumers buy.
This quality is the reason why metal is so valuable to criminals.
The ‘Swiss gold’ Stamp
Various smuggling organizations pitched Al Jazeera’s undercover reporters, posing as Chinese criminals, multiple alternatives for laundering more than $100 million in dirty currency through Zimbabwean gold.
Gold is Zimbabwe’s most valuable export. Yet, international sales are hampered by Western sanctions against lawmakers for human rights violations.
Enter the traffickers, who transport Zimbabwean gold overseas and bring it back with the undocumented wealth of money launderers – allegedly the gold’s sale proceeds. In actuality, the proceeds from the trading of the gold go to the bank accounts of the money launderers. Hence, now they hold what appears to be legitimate money.
Kamlesh Pattni and Ewan Macmillan, who operate two main rival gold-smuggling groups out of Zimbabwe, told Al Jazeera reporters that Dubai is the target for their couriers’ gold transport out of the Southern African nation.
Pattni and Alistair Mathias, the business associate of Macmillan, independently recommended Al Jazeera correspondents to establish front companies in Dubai. According to them, when the gold from Zimbabwe reaches the Emirati city, it dissolves in refineries and is remade as Dubai gold. Dubai is the gold capital of the UAE.
According to specialists, however, concealing the origins of gold doesn’t always end there. Recently, the United Nations and other international organizations and nonprofits have questioned the due diligence practices employed by Dubai’s gold industry. Therefore, a further layer of concealment surrounding the gold’s source is advantageous.
Mark Pieth, an anti-corruption and money laundering specialist and former president of the Basel Institute on Governance, told Al Jazeera that Dubai’s gold might be shipped to either London or Switzerland if it were to bear the inscription “Swiss Gold.” Then, of course, all the global banks will purchase it.
The United Arab Emirates exports 23 per cent of their gold to Switzerland, where smugglers, including Mathias, operate businesses.
Why Does This Matter?
Due to the repeated refining and global movement of gold, it is difficult to determine whether gold purchased on the open market is legally and ethically safe and devoid of money laundering and criminal activity, according to experts.
The never-ending cycle of melting, selling, purchasing, and melting further conceals any indication of the gold’s source. Hence, it makes it exceedingly challenging for law enforcement bodies to gather proof against alleged smugglers.
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