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Gold valued at over US$30bn illicitly transported from Africa in 2022 – Report


Gold trafficking from Africa, primarily directed towards the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has seen a significant increase over the past decade, with hundreds of tons of gold valued at tens of billions of dollars illegally departing the continent annually, as stated in a report released on Thursday.

According to research conducted by Swiss said, an organization specializing in development aid and advocacy, an estimated 435 tons of gold, predominantly extracted by small-scale miners and valued at over US$30 billion, was illicitly transported out of Africa in 2022.

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Swissaid highlighted that the UAE served as the primary destination for Africa’s smuggled gold, receiving 405 tons in 2022 alone.

In the preceding decade, the UAE received over 2,500 tons of smuggled gold, amounting to a total value exceeding US$115 billion, as reported by the organization.

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In response to these revelations, a UAE representative acknowledged that the country had implemented significant measures to combat concerns regarding gold smuggling, including the enactment of new regulations governing gold and other precious metals.

The magnitude of this illicit trade underscores the expansion of small-scale, or artisanal, mining into an industry involving millions of individuals, generating gold outputs comparable to or surpassing those of industrial mining operations.

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In a 2019 investigation by Reuters, it was revealed that billions of dollars‘ worth of gold was being illicitly transported out of Africa each year via the UAE, which served as a conduit to markets in Europe, the United States, and beyond.

Apart from the loss of tax revenues, experts and governments have expressed concerns that such widespread smuggling indicates the existence of a significant underground economy susceptible to potential money laundering, financing of terrorism, and evasion of sanctions.

Marc Ummel, the commodities expert at Swissaid and one of the report’s authors, asserted that the UAE contributes to gold laundering by providing a legal veneer to large quantities of smuggled gold as they transit through the country.

“If we keep on seeing more than 400 tonnes of illegal gold entering the UAE every year, this is a clear sign that the implementation of the regulations in the UAE is seriously lacking.”


For its analysis, Swissaid compared total gold exports from all African countries with gold imports into non-African countries. The organisation filled gaps in UN Comtrade data with individual country statistics and identified errors by comparing the data with figures reported by trade associations and speaking with governments and refineries.

These discrepancies between declared exports and declared imports do not exist for Switzerland and India, the other two major gold importing countries for African gold.

The Swissaid report found that there were 12 countries in Africa involved in smuggling 20 tonnes or more per year.

In response to accusations that it was not doing enough to enforce regulations on the sector, a UAE Ministry of Economy spokesperson said the UAE cannot be held accountable for other government’s export records.

“Only our own, where we have sophisticated technologies and systems to track and verify the data.”

Artisanal Mining

With the gold price having doubled since 2009, the number of people turning to artisanal mining has surged. Swissaid estimates that artisanal and small-scale gold mining in African countries produced between 443 and 596 tonnes of gold in 2022.Of this, more than 70% is not declared.

By comparison, industrial miners have produced around 500 tonnes of gold a year.

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