Gold production in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) continues to be systematically underreported, while tonnes of the precious metal is smuggled into global supply chains through its eastern neighbors, a UN report has found.
The countries along DR Congo’s eastern border have long been conduits for gold worth billions of dollars mined using rudimentary means by so-called “artisanal” miners.
Difficult to trace, trade in the precious metal has fueled regional wars, funded rebel fighters and led to UN sanctions on traders involved in a bid to staunch the flow.
North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri provinces reported official production of just more than 60kg of artisanal gold last year, yet exported a total of just more than 73kg, the UN Group of Experts on the Congo found in its annual report.
The group estimated that at least 1.1 tonnes of gold were smuggled out of Ituri Province alone last year.
That would have earned the government up to US$1.88 million in taxes had it been legally exported.
Across all gold-producing provinces the loss is likely much greater.
Artisanal miners in DR Congo produce 15 to 22 tonnes of gold a year, Germany’s Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources has estimated.
“The country remained one of the Great Lakes region’s largest artisanal gold producers, and yet one of its smallest official exporters,” the UN group wrote.
Asked about the report, Congolese Minister of Mines Willy Kitobo Samsoni said he could not immediately share his figures on mineral smuggling from the east of the country.
The UN experts also found that Uganda and other neighboring countries export far more gold than they produce, suggesting they might still be staging posts for smuggled Congolese gold.
More than 95 percent of gold exports from Uganda last year, which totaled just more than 25 tonnes, were not of Ugandan origin, the group estimated, based on 2018 production and last year’s export data.
Uganda’s gold exports last year more than doubled compared with the previous year, central bank data showed in March.
The Ugandan minister of energy did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.
Smugglers told the UN group that Kampala was a main trading hub for gold from Ituri.
Smuggled gold from South Kivu went to Burundi, Rwanda, the United Arab Emirates and Tanzania, the report added.
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