NGO fears Dubai gold imports evading Russia sanctions

Russia is the second largest producer of gold in the world. Keystone / Martin Ruetschi

Switzerland has recorded a significant increase in gold imports from the United Arab Emirates since the introduction of sanctions against Russia. NGO Swissaid calls for more transparency to determine whether this gold is coming from Russia.

This content was published on May 17, 2022 - 13:10

Swiss gold refineries, which are responsible for refining around 70% of the world’s gold, have stopped importing gold directly from Russia since sanctions were introduced at the end of February.  

In March, the Federal Office of Customs and Border Protection recorded 36 tonnes of gold imports amounting to CHF2.1 billion from the UAE. This is more in one month than at any time in the last six years.

Swissaid says that this raises questions about whether Russian gold is entering Switzerland via Dubai, and therefore, circumventing sanctions. China and Dubai are among the most important export destinations for gold from Russia, which is the second largest producer of gold.

“Switzerland and refineries have a duty to do everything possible to ensure that Switzerland does not become an escape route for Russian gold transiting through Dubai,” says Marc Ummel, who leads raw materials at Swissaid.

Transparency push

Dubai has become a key trading hub for gold over the last several years. Last July, an investigation by Swissaid revealed that gold originating in conflict regions in Africa have been entering the gold supply chain via Dubai despite laws and voluntary commitments to clean up gold supply chains. According to the report, the gold is processed by Emirati companies that don’t have direct ties with Swiss refiners, making it impossible to trace the metal’s origin and ensure that it is extracted under conditions that are respectful of human rights and the environment.

Switzerland is the headquarters of four of the seven largest refineries in the world. Swissaid reached out to five Swiss refineries to inquire about their imports from the UAE. Only Valcambi indicated that it had imported gold from the UAE in March 2022. The others said they didn’t. Some Swiss refineries have refused to import any gold from Dubai because it can’t verify its origins.

Swissaid argues that the war in Ukraine and the challenges of monitoring sanctions against Russian gold producers highlight the need for more transparency in the supply chain. Last autumn, the Swiss government asked refineries to strengthen audits to identify the true country of origin for all gold coming from the UAE. However, the NGO has called for stricter laws and better enforcement on gold origins.

In March, Switzerland’s Federal Administrative Court sided with refiners when it rejected a request from the NGO, Society for Threatened Peoples, that would have required refiners to disclose gold origins.

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