Local players in the gold sector have thrown their weight on a recent report by the United Nations which accused major airlines operating within the East African region, Africa, Middle East and Europe for aiding the smuggling of gold and other minerals.
The report published on August 13 by UN Group of Experts discovered that airlines were acting with complacency in tackling the smuggling of minerals.
It indicated that airline officials connived with passengers to check in a sizeable number of gold as hand luggage.
Furthermore, it stated that it was common practice for smugglers to purchase additional “empty seats” in order to maximise the amount of gold smuggled on a single trip.
“Airlines play an important role in enabling the transport of unwrought gold,” read the report.
In neighboring DR Congo, a case was cited in the report in which a single passenger identified as Ms. Chibalonza smuggled up to 3.6 tons of gold valued at approximately USD 440 million in a period of two years via Ethiopian Airlines from DR Congo to Dubai, through hand luggage.
This smuggled gold resulted into loss of 3% in tax and other revenues to DRC. Estimates put the lost revenues in would be taxes at over USD 100 million over a period of 10 years.
It should be recalled that part of the gold exported by Uganda comes from DRC so there is likelihood that Uganda facilitates the smuggling as a transit route.
African Gold Refinery (AGR) which is Uganda’s first gold refinery that processes raw gold into 99.9% gold bars for bullion banking purposes, has since come out to support the UN report pleading to contribute to a cleaner gold trade in Uganda.
“AGR takes note of the very serious issues raised by the Panel with respect to the issue of the trafficking of hand held gold on international airlines,” AGR said in a statement, adding that the practice “deprives countries of much needed tax revenue it also presents clear safety and security issues.”
The refinery in Entebbe which was launched early this year processes about 300 kilograms of pure gold every week bought from within Uganda and the neighboring countries.
AGR urges governments, industry and civil society groups to work constructively together to produce practical, cost-effective and credible systems for monitoring the flow of gold in the region.
The UN report called for stringent policies by airlines to restrict the carrying of minerals in hand luggage since some of the heavy metal and radioactive minerals like Uranium can pose serious danger.