Smuggling syndicate illegally shipping out tons of gold
Joy News’ investigations have uncovered how a gold smuggling syndicate illegally exports gold through the country’s land, airports and seaports. This illegal business is aided by security operatives, politically connected individuals and shipping agents. In 2018, President Akufo-Addo revealed how $5 billion was unaccounted for in gold exports from Ghana to the United Arab Emirates.
In our latest hotline documentary, ‘Busted: Gold Smugglers’ the Joy News investigative team takes a look at how this cartel outwits and evades tax.
It was not a mistake Ghana was once called the Gold Coast.
Dr Tony Aubyn, the former CEO of Minerals Commission, who has worked in the mining sector for over three decades said, “The gold business is a very difficult one. It is even more difficult and life-threatening if it is illegal mining. None of the processes of discovering that precious metal is easy.”
Meet Francis Suize who is in his mid-40s. He is from the Ashanti Regional town of Konongo. He has been in the galamsey business since 1992 when he was only 17 years. Mr Suize speaks about what pushed him into mining at that early age.
For the past 29 years, Francis and his friends have been risking their lives in deep pits, all in their quest to find gold. Though it’s tiring and dangerous, the huge sums they make within days soothe all their pains.
Francis is not alone in this. In the Central Region, there are some young miners who are happy they stop school and ventured into mining at an early age.
Zakari Tahiru from Dunkwa is one of them. He said he makes almost ¢40,000 a week.
Now back to Francis, he does not have to travel far looking for potential buyers. In Konongo and its surrounding communities, there are buyers always ready to buy from his team.
But this precious metal is difficult to sell as it is difficult to mine. Gold buyers are scattered across the country.
In Bole in the Savannah Region of Ghana, we managed to meet one of them called Yusif Abdul. He has set up his business very close to the illegal small scale gold sites. Yusif is the go to person for many of the illegal miners who have gold to sell. Yusif also sells to other gold dealers in Accra, Kumasi, Techiman and Tamale. Yusif says he neither have the funds nor the network to ship large quantities of Gold abroad.
Abu Mumuni [not his real name] is one of those who knows how to beat the system and cross Ghana’s porous borders with tons of gold to sell to neighbouring Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso.
Due to the informal nature of illegal gold business, there is no reliable data to reference the market value of the precious metal on the black market.
Bole, a district in the Savannah region, is notorious for illegal mining. Abu lives here. The sprawling district offers limited economic opportunities apart from farming which employs 75 percent of the working force.
Abu attributes the success of his illegal gold business to a strong well-managed network he has established in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast.
The Precious Minerals Marketing Company is mandated to oversee the export of gold from the small-scale mining sector, and the law requires at least 80 percent of foreign currency earned from exports to be repatriated into the country. Can we state the law either in full or in part?
But, for many gold agents like this middle-aged man who gave his name as Adu Ampofo, the local gold market doesn’t offer much. Adu and his partners make more money when they smuggle their gold out to sell in neighbouring countries.
The black market of gold smuggling is as old as the business of illegal mining in Ghana. Dr Tony Aubyn has worked in the mining industry for more than 30 years.
Mohammed Amodu is another gold dealer.
He gets his gold from illegal small scale miners and sells to clients in Dubai. He would not open up about how he ships his gold to the Gulf States.
Large quantities of gold illegally smuggled to neighbouring countries without documentation, thus creating a huge revenue shortfall for Ghana.
Ghanaians in the gold trading and export business are gradually being pushed out and their place being taken by foreigners who have enough money to sponsor small scale miners to find them gold. Chief Executive of the Chamber of Bullion Traders Ghana, which is an association of licensed gold traders and exporters sees this as a major problem for the sector.
These foreigners come in with huge sums to buy the gold from the source and ship them outside Ghana and sell. Some according to Mr. Krampah, do this illegally just to avoid paying tax.
In 2018, President Akufo-Addo made a shocking revelation about how $5 billion dollars were unaccounted for in gold exports from Ghana to the United Arab Emirates. While the authorities in the gulf region had recorded in their records $7 billion dollars in imports of gold from Ghana, in the country’s books, only $2 billion dollars could be traced.
Ghanaian authorities are unable to determine the quantities of gold produced and shipped out of the country illegally. The Civil Society Platform On Oil and Gas stated in a recent report that over $10 billion worth of gold shipped out of Ghana between 2014 and 2016 was unaccounted.
This is over thousands of kilogrammes of gold shipped to Switzerland, United Arab Emirates and India which could not be traced.
Dr. Aubyn is aware of other mechanism these smugglers use to illegally send gold out.
In October last year, media reports reveal that the national security had arrested a gold syndicate attempting to smuggle gold through the Kotoka International Airport.
The Ghana Airport Company has confirmed this leakage. In a letter signed by the Managing Director of the Ghana Airport Company and addressed to us, Yaw Kwakwa confirmed that there have been instances where airport staff have been arrested and punished in line with internal disciplinary procedures.
If President Akufo Addo’s claim of Ghana losing $5 billion dollars in gold exports to the UAE is anything to go by, then the country has been deprived of fourteen 500 kilometres of a two-lane, single carriageway, asphalt-concrete paved road, 17,500 six-unit classroom blocks, 8,400 CHPS compounds, 43,428 boreholes and it would still be left with a change of ¢138,251.
How these cartel manage to convince airport staff to help them outwit security arrangements is the question we seek to answer in this documentary. So JoyNews journalists go undercover to expose the work of this illegal billion dollar criminal network.
We meet this national security official, we decide to call Joe. He connects us to a Jagar, colleague at the airport. Jagar is not his real name.
After setting the modalities of what we intend doing, he dives into how much it would cost the team if he should assist us. He admits he is putting his job on the line. He says he would charge me 20,000 to help me smuggle gold using the airports. But, we settle at 10,000.
Director of Research at the Chamber of Bullion Traders Ghana, Henry Osei, has studied the operations of these people for sometime.
Still at the airport, we have realized that Jagar is not the only national security official at the airport involved in this business. Big J, is a middle aged man at one of the security posts. He agrees to assist if my contact is unable to help with smuggling of the gold through the airports.
A man who has wide knowledge of how the national security operates at the airports gives an insight about how these security operatives work to compromise the system. He agrees to this interview under condition of anonymity.
The Managing Director of the Ghana Airport Company discounts these claims. According to him, the assumption that established protocols are not observed is false. He adds that there are measures in place to ensure strict adherence to established standard operating procedures.
This man we call Willie Brown for the purposes of anonymity is a politically exposed individual. He doesn’t only operate illegal small scale mining concessions, he also has far reaching insight and association with the networks involved in the smuggling of Gold.
He promises to introduce the team to a shipping line that will charge us a less than what the state owned PMMC would take on the gold we intend export
He further gives a deeper insight into how many gold smugglers beat the system to cheat the nation of badly needed revenue.
Willie Brown introduces us to one of the managers of the shipping line who promises to help us cheat the system. He says the team will have to pay him 8% of the cost of each pound of gold we intend to smuggle out.
He boasts of several individuals he has successfully aided to get their gold out. According to him, if he is unable to use the seaports, the airports are one of the routes to send the gold out.
The Chamber of Bullion Traders Ghana believes these anomalies can only be fixed when these steps are followed.