Press Release / / 02.22.21

Report: $4B in Conflict Gold Hits US, International Markets

$4 Billion in Conflict Gold From Central and East Africa Hits US, International Markets

  • Meteoric Gold Price Boosts Illicit Trade, Fueling Profits for Armed Groups and Criminal Networks
  • Risks Linked to Atrocities Flagged for Tech, Banking, Jewelry, Auto Sectors
  • Nascent Conflict-Free Artisanal Mining Sector Presents New Opportunities for Companies to Source Responsibly From East and Central Africa  


February 22, 2021 (Washington, DC) – A new report by The Sentry published today is warning that as international gold prices are soaring to new heights, more than $4 billion in conflict-affected or high-risk gold from certain countries in Central and East Africa is flowing to international markets. The report details key opportunities for action by governments, jewelry, electronics, and automotive companies, and banks to counter the flood of conflict gold and bolster a nascent conflict-free trade.

The new report, “Conflict Gold to Responsible Gold: A Roadmap for Companies & Governments,” spotlights conflict gold smuggled from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan, and South Sudan, linked to international criminal networks and armed groups responsible for mass atrocities.

Sasha Lezhnev, author of the report and Deputy Director of Policy, said: “Companies in the electronics, jewelry, and auto sectors need to take a hard look at their gold supply chains, particularly at refineries based in countries neighboring conflict zones. Those neighboring states, including Uganda, Rwanda, and Cameroon, are exporting massive amounts of smuggled gold and represent major risks for companies.”

Megha Swamy, Deputy Director of Illicit Finance Policy, said: “Almost all the conflict and high-risk gold from East and Central Africa ends up in Dubai. The UAE and Dubai’s authorities should urgently close the policy and regulatory loopholes allowing this trade to flourish. These reforms are critical for the growth of trade in conflict-free artisanal gold.”

John Prendergast, Founding Director of The Sentry, said: “Artisanal mines employ hundreds of thousands of people in East and Central Africa, yet all too often are exploited by corrupt officials, armed groups, and criminal networks. The Biden administration and the European Union should sanction criminal networks that purchase conflict gold and robustly engage regional African governments on policy reforms to formalize artisanal mining.”

Of the four main conflict minerals (gold, tin, tantalum, and tungsten), gold has been the most difficult to address. As other minerals have been brought into a legitimate trade, gold remains a lifeline for corrupt ruling networks, according to The Sentry’s report. In the US, India, the Middle East, Europe, and China, sectors at greatest risk include technology, jewelry, automotive, and banking.

A nascent trade in responsible, conflict-free artisanal gold is emerging from East and Central Africa, but it needs significant regional and international policy changes and industry engagement in order to grow. Hundreds of thousands of men and women work in artisanal and small-scale gold mining in East and Central Africa but are frequently exploited by corrupt officials, criminal traders, armed units, and poor policies. COVID-19 has left artisanal mining communities in the region even more vulnerable to price and criminal exploitation.

As detailed in the report, conflict gold is primarily smuggled to neighboring countries Uganda, Rwanda, Cameroon, Kenya, Chad, and Burundi and then exported to Dubai before transport into global markets.


Key findings

International regulations, due diligence standards, and industry auditing programs established over the past decade to combat the conflict gold trade have significantly improved awareness of the problem. However, there are five main obstacles to a sustainable solution, presenting new opportunities for governments and industry to have an impact:

  • Lack of consequences. Refiners and traders who deal in conflict gold have faced few, if any, financial or legal consequences for contributing to armed conflict or pillaging, despite United States, United Nations (UN), and European Union (EU) sanctions regimes, industry auditing programs, and laws that address these issues.
  • Weak policies and enforcement in Dubai and other world gold centers. Policies on gold trading and customs in the UAE, India, and other global gold centers are inconsistent and insufficiently enforced, which incentivizes smuggling and money laundering. The new London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) international bullion center initiative, which threatens to cut off gold centers from global supply chains if they do not enact key responsible gold reforms, provides useful leverage to try to change those policies.
  • Imbalanced gold export taxes. Gold export taxes among gold-producing states and neighboring countries in East and Central Africa are severely imbalanced, significantly incentivizing smuggling. For example, Uganda and Cameroon have substantially lower gold taxes than neighboring DRC and CAR, respectively, thus making it much more profitable to smuggle gold to those countries.
  • Policy disincentives. Policies in the region hinder or completely preclude miners’ ability to register legally, secure property rights, or have protection, creating major obstacles to developing the responsible artisanal mining sector. Government corruption exacerbates those challenges.
  • Lack of financing. Financing for responsible, conflict-free mining in East and Central Africa is severely lacking, making mining cooperatives vulnerable to illicit actors who provide prefinancing.


Report recommendations

The trade in conflict gold is prolific and problematic, but companies, governments, and financial institutions can pursue the following five actions to have significant impact:

  • Establish greater consequences for trading in conflict gold. The United States, the UN Security Council (UNSC), and the EU should investigate and, if appropriate, sanction refining and trading companies that deal in conflict gold. Jewelry and electronics companies should stop sourcing from refiners that have failed credible independent audits on conflict minerals. Such policies have helped clean up the trade in other conflict minerals.
  • Strengthen policies and enforcement in Dubai. The UAE government should close the regulatory and enforcement loopholes that allow for trade in conflict and high-risk gold, in line with LBMA and Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations.
  • Harmonize gold export taxes. The US Department of State and the EU should work with regional governments—in Uganda, Rwanda, the DRC, CAR, and Cameroon, in particular—to harmonize gold taxes in order to reduce smuggling and facilitate growth in the conflict-free gold trade.
  • Remove disincentives for artisanal miners. Donor governments should work with mining ministries in reforming policies to formalize artisanal mining, for instance, by reducing the red tape for miners to access property rights and by lowering miner registration costs. Governments in the region and gold refiners should adopt the CRAFT code, a standard for improving artisanal mining conditions.
  • Source from conflict-free artisanal mines. Refiners that have passed credible international audits should increase sourcing from responsible artisanal gold projects in the region. Pilot projects to source responsible gold from the DRC to Western markets should be scaled up.

Read the full report

For media inquiries or interview requests, please contact: Greg Hittelman, Director of Communications, +1 310 717 0606,


About The Sentry

The Sentry is an investigative and policy team that follows the dirty money connected to African war criminals and transnational war profiteers and seeks to shut those benefiting from violence out of the international financial system. By disrupting the cost-benefit calculations of those who hijack governments for self-enrichment, we seek to counter the main drivers of conflict and create new leverage for peace, human rights, and good governance. The Sentry is composed of financial investigators, international human rights lawyers, and regional experts, as well as former law enforcement agents, intelligence officers, policymakers, investigative journalists, and banking professionals. Co-founded by George Clooney and John Prendergast, The Sentry is a strategic partner of the Clooney Foundation for Justice.

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