Congo's gold being smuggled out by the tonne, U.N. report finds

(Reuters) - According to a United Nations report, gold production in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to be systematically under-reported while tons of the precious metal are smuggled into global supply chains via its eastern neighbors.
The countries along the eastern border of the Congo have long been channels for gold worth billions of dollars mined by so-called "artisanal" miners with rudimentary means.
The difficult to understand trade in precious metals has fueled regional wars, financed rebel fighters and led to UN sanctions against traders who were involved in stopping the flow.
The provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri reported the official production of slightly more than 60 kg of artisanal gold in 2019, but exported slightly more than 73 kg overall, as the UN expert group for the Congo noted in its annual report.
The group estimated that at least 1.1 tons of gold were smuggled out of Ituri province in 2019 alone. That would have brought the government taxes of up to $ 1.88 million if it had been legally exported.
The loss is likely to be much greater in all gold-producing provinces. Craftsmen in the Congo produce 15 to 22 tons of gold annually, according to estimates by the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources.
"The country remained one of the largest artisanal gold producers in the Great Lakes region, yet one of the smallest official exporters," wrote the expert group.
When asked by Reuters about the report, the Congo's Minister of Mines, Willy Kitobo Samsoni, said he could not immediately disclose his numbers 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 that they may still have supplies of smuggled Congolese gold.
Over 95% of Uganda's gold exports in 2019, which amounted to just over 25 tonnes, were not of Ugandan origin, the group estimated based on 2018 production and 2019 export data.
Uganda's gold exports more than doubled in 2019 compared to the previous year, as the central bank data showed in March.
The Ugandan Minister of Energy did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.
Smugglers informed the group of experts that Kampala was a major Ituri gold trading center. Smuggled gold from South Kivu went to Burundi, Rwanda, the United Arab Emirates and Tanzania.
(Reporting by Helen Reid and Hereward Holland; editing by Hugh Lawson)

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