Billions of dollars in gold flows illegally out of Africa each year – report says

Billions of dollars’ worth of gold is smuggled out of Africa each year, mostly ending up in the United Arab Emirates. There, it is refined and sold worldwide, according to a report published Thursday May 30.

In 2022, over $30 billion in gold, or more than 435 metric tons, was smuggled out of Africa, says the report by Swissaid, a Swiss aid and development group. The main destinations for this gold were the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Switzerland, the report stated.

The authors of the report said their goal was to make the trade in African gold more transparent and put pressure on industry players to do more to make gold supplies traceable and supply chains more responsible.

“We hope that this will improve the living conditions of local populations and the working conditions of artisanal miners throughout Africa,” Yvan Schulz, one of the authors, told The Associated Press.

The report found that between 32% and 41% of gold produced in Africa was not declared. In 2022, Ghana was the largest gold producer in Africa, followed by Mali and South Africa, it said.


Between 2012-2022, 2,569 metric tons of gold, worth around $115 billion were smuggled to UAE. The report said the gap between UAE imports and exports from African countries has widened over the years, meaning that the amount of gold smuggled out of Africa appears to have increased over the past decade. For example, it widened from 234 metric tons in 2020 to 405 in 2022.


Switzerland, another main buyer of African gold, imported some 21 metric tons of undeclared gold from Africa in 2022, the report said. The real figure could be much higher if African gold imported through third countries was taken into consideration, the report said, but once gold is refined, it is virtually impossible to follow its flow to it final destination.


The United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database, which contains detailed imports and exports statistics, shows that Switzerland is the main buyer of gold from the UAE. “Sourcing gold from the UAE is notoriously risky,” the report said, describing the difficulty in ascertaining the origins of the refined gold.

FILE- Miners extract mud they hope contains gold at a gold mining site at which adults and
FILE- Miners extract mud they hope contains gold at a gold mining site at which adults and Nicholas Bamulanzeki/Copyright 2021 The AP. All rights reserved.
An official within the UAE government’s media office said the country has taken significant steps to address concerns around gold smuggling and the risks it poses. The continued growth of the UAE’s gold market reflected the confidence of the international community in its processes, the official said, responding on behalf of the country’s press office without providing further identification.

“The UAE remains steadfast in its efforts to combat gold smuggling and ensure the highest standards of transparency and accountability within the gold and precious metals sector,” the official said.

The Swiss government said it was aware of the challenges identifying the origins of gold and that it had introduced measures to prevent illegal flows.

“Switzerland is and stays committed to improve the traceability of commodity flows, the transparency of statistics and the quality of controls,” Fabian Maienfisch, spokesperson for Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, said.

The report compared export data from African countries with import data from non-African countries, along with other calculations, to extrapolate the data. Among its recommendations, it called on African states to take steps to formalize artisanal and small scale mining and reinforce border controls.

It also called on non-African states to publish the identity of the countries of origin and the countries of dispatch of imported gold, and to work with authorities to identify illicit gold flows.


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