Activist Hopewell Chin’ono (L) and alleged gold dealer Uebert Angel (R). Source: Al Jazeera YouTube - Photo: 2023

Controversial Documentary on Gold Smuggling in Zimbabwe Hits the Air Waves

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK, 3 April 2023 (IDN) — It’s the biggest criminal conspiracy you’ve never heard of.

“Gold Mafia—The Laundry Service”—is a shocking tale of corruption in high places, illicit gold smuggling and its powerful enablers who slip through international borders with gold and return with billions in American dollars.

Called a “jaw-dropping undercover investigation” by the Al Jazeera news service, the documentary has just been released after it was nearly derailed by threats from the Zimbabwe government against award-winning anti-corruption activist Hopewell Chin’ono whose defense of Gold Mafia on a TV news station was broadcast throughout the country.

The first two parts of the film can now be seen on YouTube.

According to the South African business news publication, Moneyweb, Al Jazeera’s latest film purportedly uncovers a $4.5 billion-a-year gold smuggling racket that evaded the harsh economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. Congress on Zimbabwe.

“The film lends credence to the long-held view in Harare and abroad that there are powerful forces profiting from sanctions and an illegal gold smuggling racket reckoned to be worth more than $370 million a month operating relatively freely in the country,” writes Moneyweb’s Ciaran Ryan.

Eddie Cross, former opposition parliamentarian and Harare-based businessman commented: “To be frank, (news of the gold smuggling) is not anything new around here. The most shocking part of the film is the involvement of the Monetary Authority in Zimbabwe. My big fear is that we could end by back on the “greylist’ after we were removed a year ago.”

A country is placed on the U.S. greylist to warn the financial community that the high-risk country is not putting in the required effort to combat financial crime. Other countries on the greylist are Senegal, South Africa, South Sudan, Turkey, the UAE, Jordan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Last year, the Zimbabwe Anti-Sanctions Movement attempted to have sanctions declared unlawful, unconstitutional and invalid. The case was brought in a South African court and named President Biden, president of the US senate, speaker of the US House of Representatives, major US banks and others as respondents.  Last week, the case was tossed for lack of jurisdiction.

Gold smuggling, organized by individuals linked to the ruling establishment, deprives Zimbabwe of an estimated 36 tons of gold annually – according to a new report by the Center for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG).

Relative to its size, Zimbabwe has the second-largest gold deposits in the world, whose extraction provides the main source of its export revenues as Zimbabwe currency has no value for commercial transactions.

Smuggling occurs mainly in the artisanal gold mining sector, which produces around 60% of Zimbabwe’s gold. Originally providing livelihoods to rural communities, the sector has been captured by political elites, moving in to harvest the artisanally mined gold for their personal enrichment.

“Gold dealers, who are protected by the ruling Zanu-PF party officials use state apparatus to capture and control gold-rich areas throughout the country,” says the report, or about 36 tons of gold annually. That amounts to more than half of Zimbabwe’s total gold production of 29.6 tons in 2021.

Deprived of the revenue that could be obtained by the legitimate sale of gold, Zimbabwe suffers from reduced revenue for health, education, transport, energy, agriculture and infrastructural development.

Countries which enable smuggling, says Al Jazeera, with the connivance of the authorities, are South Africa, Zambia and Mozambique. Gold is then sold in Dubai.

Meanwhile, the government has said nothing publicly since the documentary’s screening. Officials of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe called the snippets of the documentary they had seen “sensationally wild, false and malicious.” Alleged smuggling kingpins, secretly filmed, don’t represent the central bank, said the Reserve Bank.

The report is sceptical about Zimbabwe’s capacity to curb the smuggling, as politicians with a vested interest in the illicit gold trade tend to intimidate relevant authorities when they take action against the perpetrators. “While the media has been raising alarm over gold smuggling, the government has not demonstrated seriousness in punishing offenders,” it says. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Activist Hopewell Chin’ono (L) and alleged gold dealer Uebert Angel (R). Source: Global Information Network

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