UN experts: Gold from Congo going to armed groups, criminals

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. experts say armed groups, criminal networks and some law enforcement agents in Congo are reaping vast sums of money from illegally exploiting gold and other natural resources and smuggling them to Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and the United Arab Emirates.

The experts monitoring implementation of U.N. sanctions against Congo said in a report to the U.N. Security Council obtained Friday by The Associated Press that “the volumes of smuggled gold were significantly higher than the volumes of legally traded gold.”

The council imposed sanctions on Congo after the end of back-to-back wars that destroyed much of the central African nation by 2002. Sporadic violence has continued to plague the vast nation’s mineral-rich eastern border region where local militias regularly clash with one another, as well as with Congolese army forces and perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The panel of experts said it traced Congolese gold “to regional refineries and other international destinations and found that some refineries acted as brokers, used cash payments, undertook refiner-to-refiner trading and used corporate networks to obscure ownership, thereby inhibiting supply chain accountability.” Gold traders also avoided using formal banking networks, it said.

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The panel said it found that North and South Kivu in eastern Congo and Ituri province in the northeast reported official production totaling just over 60 kilograms of surface-mined gold in 2019 and exported a total of just over 73 kilograms.

The experts said Ituri’s capital city Bunia remains a gold trading and smuggling hub where eight gold-buying houses each purchased a minimum of 2 to 3 kilograms of gold per week, according to three traders and a mining official.

“On the basis of those quantities, the group estimated that a minimum of 1,100 kilograms of gold had been purchased and smuggled out of … Congo in 2019 from Ituri alone, which could have generated up to $1.88 million in taxes had it been legally exported,” the panel said in the 42-page report.

Gold smuggled from Ituri was traded notably in Uganda’s capital Kampala, the experts said, quoting two smugglers who described three recent trips from Bunia to Kampala with a combined total of 7 kilograms of gold, “which they sold to `Indian’ traders.”

According to seven smugglers, the panel said gold from South Kivu went to Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and the UAE.

The experts said two smugglers described transporting gold from Bukavu in South Kivu to Kamembe international airport in Rwanda for flights to the UAE throughout 2019 — and four smugglers said that customs authorities in the UAE’s most populous city, Dubai, and buyers “did not ask questions regarding the origin of the gold.”

In December 2019, the panel said, it received an update from the UAE saying it has taken steps with Congo to combat the illicit gold trade and has also taken steps to train customs officers.

The panel said it documented networks comprising some Tanzanian nationals involved in smuggling gold from South Kivu, including being taken across Lake Tanganyika to Burundi and then on to Tanzania.

The experts said the Mai-Mai Yakutumba rebel group financed its activities from gold traded and taxed from territory in South Kivu, where it operated. The panel said it also established that Sheikh Hassani, leader of the Mai-Mai Malaika rebel group, profited from clandestine gold production at the Namoya Mining concession in Maniema province in east central Congo.

At the Kachanga mine in South Kivu, the panel quoted three diggers saying that from 2019 until at least March 2020, over 120 combined members of their gold-mining cooperatives had to pay 1,000 Congolese francs daily to some members of Congo’s armed forces “who sent the money to the military hierarchy of the 33rd military region.”

The panel said it analyzed gold production and trade data for Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania on the basis of the frequency and volume of gold smuggling from Congo into regional trading and transit hubs and beyond and found that recorded production in many of those countries was low relative to their gold exports.

As an example, the experts estimated, using published information from Ugandan authorities, that “over 95 per cent of gold exports from Uganda were of non-Ugandan origin for 2019.”

As for other metals mined in Congo, the experts said companies trading in tin, tantalum and tungsten implemented international mineral traceability measures. But they said after speaking to over 100 diggers across 15 mining areas that “systemic weaknesses” remain that in some cases jeopardized the supply chain across North and South Kivu.

The panel said it found that not all producing mines were “validated” and that minerals from these mines were sometimes smuggled into the tagged supply chain from mines that were validated and participating in the tracing process. It also found cases where the valuable minerals coltan and cassiterite, “the extraction and sale of which benefited armed groups, were traded into tagged supply chains.”

In February, the experts said Rwandan authorities showed them 155 kilograms of coltan that had been seized on Jan. 23 which they said had been smuggled from Congo. The experts said they were also shown seven lots of untagged minerals seized from elsewhere in Rwanda since June 2019 including 360 kilograms of presumed beryllium, 293 kilograms of presumed cassiterite, 250 kilograms of presumed wolframite and 54 kilograms of presumed coltan.

On the arms embargo, the panel said it found that foreign instructors provided training to members of the Congolese military without notifying the sanctions committee as required, citing instructors with Chinese, Israeli and South African citizenship.

It also said arms were delivered to the country’s forces and that foreign civilian aviation personnel provided support to the country’s air force — all without notifying the U.N. committee.

The panel said that since January 2018, more than 2,000 tons of arms and ammunition intended for the Congolese military has been sent without required advance notification to the committee, citing eight transfers by China’s army and state-owned arms and munitions company and by private companies. It also cited weapons sent to the military that are similar to those from Albania, Bulgaria and Brazil.

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