New investigative report by The Sentry raises serious concerns that gold mined from conflict areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo may wind up in the supply chains of 283 U.S. publicly listed companies, including Amazon, Sony, and General Electric, through a global gold trading corporate network controlled by Belgian tycoon Alain Goetz.
Washington, DC – A new investigative report released today by The Sentry, an investigative initiative co-founded by George Clooney and John Prendergast, spotlights how gold mined from conflict areas in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo may be reaching international markets, including the supply chains of major U.S. companies and in products that consumers use every day. According to the United Nations, conflict gold provides the largest source of revenue to armed actors in the conflict in eastern Congo. An estimated 4.5 million people are displaced as a result of conflict in Congo.
Documents reviewed and interviews conducted by The Sentry for the report, “The Golden Laundromat: The conflict gold trade from eastern Congo to the United States and Europe,” raise serious concerns that the corporate network controlled by Belgian tycoon Alain Goetz has refined illegally-smuggled conflict gold from eastern Congo at the African Gold Refinery (AGR) in Uganda and then exported it through a series of companies to the United States and Europe, potentially including Amazon, General Electric (GE), and Sony.
According to documents reviewed by The Sentry, AGR exported approximately $377 million in gold in 2017 to an apparent affiliate of the Belgian gold refinery Tony Goetz NV, based in Dubai. According to 2018 U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings, 283 publicly-traded companies in the U.S. listed the Belgian refinery as an entity that may be in their supply chains, despite the fact that the refinery failed a major international conflict minerals audit in 2017. Those same filings indicate that AGR itself, opened in Uganda in 2016 and owned by Goetz, may also be in the supply chains of 103 publicly traded U.S. companies, including GE and Halliburton.
The Sentry conducted over 100 interviews with gold miners, traders, and civil society groups in Congo and the region for the report.
Sasha Lezhnev, Deputy Director of Policy at the Enough Project, said: “The conflict gold trade sustains ruthless armed groups and army units that commit major human rights abuses on the population of eastern Congo. The U.S. government and U.N. Security Council need to take action against corporate networks that traffic conflict gold and move it into the global economy.”
It is illegal, according to Congolese law, to export gold from non-certified artisanal mines in Congo. With an estimated 96 percent of artisanal gold mines in Congo not certified at present (60 out of an estimated 1,499 mines), there is a substantial risk that AGR is exporting illegally-mined gold and then moving it through the supply chain to electronics and other companies based in North America and Europe. The activities of the network appear to be noncompliant with both international supply chain due diligence guidance and international anti-money laundering safeguards as the network’s companies buy, refine, and then sell the gold.
Furthermore, Goetz has recently set up a major gold trading hub in neighboring Rwanda, exporting approximately one ton of gold per month since November 2017 (the equivalent of $500 million per year).
The investigation found that AGR exported over 9 tons of gold in 2017, far beyond Uganda’s domestic production, while acknowledging sourcing from Congo. Two major gold smugglers in Congo told The Sentry that they illegally trafficked gold from eastern Congo to AGR, and other regional gold traders confirmed their accounts. Furthermore, several regional traders told The Sentry that major gold traffickers who have been named in several UN Group of Experts on the DRC reports as purchasers of conflict gold, supplied gold to AGR in 2017. AGR denies sourcing from these traffickers or sourcing conflict gold.
John Prendergast, Co-founder of The Sentry and Founding Director of the Enough Project, said: “Gold from conflict-ridden eastern Congo is entering the United States. The US Treasury Department should combat money laundering associated with that gold through the full panoply of anti-money laundering measures, and banks purchasing gold need to apply enhanced scrutiny. These actions should target specific launderers, but not discourage the legitimate, conflict-free gold trade.”
AGR steadfastly maintains that it is committed to refraining from any action that contributes to the financing of conflict and that its due diligence systems are based on international guidance. Further, Tony Goetz NV asserts that it follows strict procedures to avoid sourcing conflict minerals and that it follows all laws and international guidelines.
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