Swiss and Peruvian authorities are working on a case involving Neuchâtel refiner Metalor, which is suspected of money laundering and the purchase of illegal gold, according to a Swiss NGO. Metalor rejects the accusations.
The Bern-based Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) published a report on Wednesday claiming that the major refiner continued to import illegally produced gold from Peru even after that country took widespread measures forbidding production by most of the country’s estimated 100,000 wildcat miners.
The report had been written with a Peruvian investigative journalist, Oscar Castilla.
In January 2014, Peruvian authorities confiscated gold belonging to Famyr Group EIRL, allegedly destined for Metalor. The NGO explained that the Peruvian prosecutor’s office “assumed” that the gold had come from an illegal source.
A statement explained that “Metalor addressed its suspicions to the Swiss money-laundering reporting office in April 2014” before the office transferred the case to the attorney general, while requesting further information from Peruvian authorities.
STP wrote that “it is yet to be seen whether Metalor would be the subject of a preliminary investigation”.
Meanwhile, the NGO said the Peruvian prosecutor in charge of money laundering is expected to request mutual legal assistance from Switzerland in its investigation of Famyr’s confiscated gold.
In a statement published on Thursday, Metalor strongly rejected the NGO's accusations. It said it followed a due diligence process which had been audited and approved by international organisations such as the London Bullion Market and the Responsible Jewellery Council.
Metalor is also one of three refiners that joined the Swiss Better Gold Initiative in 2013, established with the support of Switzerland’s State Secretariat of Economic Affairs (SECO), to promote sustainable gold production in Peru.
The Neuchâtel refiner said the gold from Peru came from authorised, legal sources and each delivery is checked by Peruvian customs at the border.
Gold is overwhelmingly Peru’s most important export to Switzerland, representing 99% of all exports. According to the Federal Customs Administration, Switzerland imported 143 tonnes of gold from Peru last year, worth CHF2.6 billion ($2.6 billion).
Metalor said it was fully aware of the situation affecting the Madre de Dios region, a jungle region in southern Peru, where vast areas have been affected by deforestation and mercury pollution due to illegal gold mining. That was why the firm decided two years ago to no longer accept gold from the area and support the Peruvian authorities in its fight against illegal gold mining, it declared.
Switzerland is home to four of the world’s biggest gold refiners, including PAMP, Argos-Hereaus and Valcambi, which was recently sold to the Indian group Rajesh Exports. Some 70% of gold traded worldwide transits though Switzerland.